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Lions set for Australian induction

British and Irish Lions get ready for tough introduction ahead of three-test series against the Wallabies.

Last Modified: 03 Jun 2013 12:27
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Brian O'Driscoll, centre, will lead the Lions in the first of their nine matches in Australia, standing in for injured captain Sam Warburton against the Western Force on Wednesday [GALLO/GETTY]

The British and Irish Lions kick off their Australian tour in chilly Perth on Wednesday against a Western Force side promising a hot reception that will test the toughness of the "big slabs of meat".

Following a comprehensive eight-try rout over the Barbarians in humid Hong Kong, where the weather offered more problems than the invitational side, the Lions touched down in Perth on Monday to take on Australia's weakest Super Rugby team.

With skipper Sam Warburton's knee still an issue and not aided by the long flight from Hong Kong, Brian O'Driscoll will captain a side featuring seven of his Irish international team mates at Subiaco Oval.

High standard

O'Driscoll watched from the stands in Hong Kong as his rival for a test starting place, Jonathan Davies, was one of several Lions who impressed in the 59-8 drubbing leaving the Irishman well aware of the need to hit the ground running.

"They set a good standard, it was very, very difficult conditions," the 2005 Lions skipper told reporters in Perth on Monday.

"We have a very strong squad with huge competition for places so you don't want to have any individual or collective bad performances at this stage. You want to build towards that first test match."

Jonny Sexton starts at flyhalf against the Force and will be looking to build on his scratchy display off the bench in Hong Kong where he missed three kicks.

Leigh Halfpenny's inclusion at fullback provides goal-kicking cover but it is unlikely conversions and penalties will affect the result too much on Wednesday, with the tourists highly expected to run in tries against a side that has won only three of 14 matches in the Southern Hemisphere competition.

The Force have also been shorn of their two Wallabies - loose forward Ben McCalman and winger Nick Cummins - and their plucky defensive line that helped them to surprise victories over the Canterbury Crusaders and the Queensland Reds is sure to busy on Wednesday.

Meat packing

O'Driscoll's guile aside, it will be huge physicality that the Force will face with Irish wing Tommy Bowe, bruising English centre Manu Tuilagi and powerful Welsh wing George North all looking for tries on their first starts of the tour.

The size and strength of Warren Gatland's 37-man Lions squad led to Australia media labelling them "big slabs of meat" and sparky Force scrumhalf Brett Sheehan was looking forward to a first nibble at the tourists.

"We want it to be an extremely physical game," Sheehan told reporters in Perth on Monday.

"If it gets fiery, well that's good for us. They are stressing that they want to stay disciplined, there were a few little things that got under their skins."

Sheehan's remarks were aimed at English flyhalf Owen Farrell, who was guilty of losing his cool in the Hong Kong heat after copping a punch from Saracens team mate Schalk Brits and starts Wednesday's match on the bench in a side all changed from Saturday.

Warburton is one of only three Lions not to have been named in either of the matchday 23s as he continues to recover from a knee problem, while Irish fullback Rob Kearney is in danger of going home because of a hamstring tear.

Prop Gethin Jenkins is slated for game time against the Reds on Saturday.

Gatland has wisely chosen to save his captain for the harsher challenges to follow rather than risk him against an opposition looking to rough up the tourists to aid the Wallabies' cause in the three tests matches.

"I think any loss is going to be a blow to them," Force back rower Matt Hodgson said.

"So hopefully, if we can't get the win, we can put in a solid performance and hurt a few of their bodies," the former Wallaby said.

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Source:
Reuters
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