AUCKLAND (Reuters) - Players who had been training together for the past two weeks make up the majority of the British and Irish Lions side to play the opening game of their 10-match tour of New Zealand.
Coach Warren Gatland’s squad only arrived in New Zealand on Wednesday and face the Provincial Barbarians in the northern city of Whangarei on Saturday.
The Lions’ preparation had been hamstrung by European club commitments with players filtering into training camps after those had been completed.
“The advantage of the team we have selected is that the players were together in the first week in Wales,” Gatland said on Thursday.
“Then we had a another group come in in Dublin as well so it has been an opportunity for some combinations to work together for a couple of weeks and to prepare for the first game.”
Tour captain Sam Warburton, who has recovered from a knee injury, will lead the side against the Barbarians, who are mostly composed of players from New Zealand’s semi-professional provincial competition.
New Zealand-born Ireland centre Jared Payne has been named on the bench for the Lions, which should provide an emotional homecoming for the 31-year-old, who played for local provincial side Northland for three seasons.
Gatland also included Ireland captain Rory Best, Wales skipper Alun Wyn Jones and Scotland’s Greig Laidlaw, a late call-up to the squad, all of whom can take the leadership role should Warburton be substituted after getting match fitness under his belt.
“There is some real experience there with Rory Best, Alun Wynn Jones and Johnny Sexton, and Sam as captain,” Gatland added.
“So there is a big responsibility on the lot of the experienced players to go out there and start well and get us off to a winning start.”
New Zealand-born rugby league convert Ben Te‘o has also been named to start in the centres with England team mate Jonathan Joseph, providing Gatland with the combination of a hard ball runner and more creative player in midfield.
All three Scotlish players in the squad - fullback Stuart Hogg, winger Tommy Seymour and scrumhalf Laidlaw - have been named to start the match that kicks off at 1935 (0735 GMT) on Saturday.
Lions: 15-Stuart Hogg, 14-Anthony Watson, 13-Jonathan Joseph, 12-Ben Te‘o, 11-Tommy Seymour, 10-Johnny Sexton, 9-Greig Laidlaw; 8-Taulupe Faletau, 7-Sam Warburton (captain), 6-Ross Moriarty, 5-Iain Henderson, 4-Alun Wyn Jones, 3-Kyle Sinckler, 2-Rory Best, 1-Joe Marler
Replacements: 16-Jamie George, 17-Mako Vunipola, 18-Tadhg Furlong, 19-George Kruis, 20-Justin Tipuric, 21-Rhys Webb, 22-Owen Farrell, 23-Jared Payne
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Ed Osmond