O'Driscoll to lead the Lions in their first tour game in Australia
With Warburton still sidelined by a knee injury, Irish centre will skipper side against a Western Force team who have promised no quarter given
Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll would lead the British and Irish Lions in their first tour game in Australia this week with skipper Sam Warburton still out with a knee injury, officials said yesterday.
Warburton, who missed the Lions' 59-8 mauling of the Barbarians in Hong Kong, remains sidelined with ligament damage despite earlier comments that he could feature against Western Force tomorrow.
The Force are promising a physical test for the 23-man match-day squad, which contains eight Lions debutants and will not include any players who started against the Barbarians on Saturday.
The Lions are seeking their first test series victory in 16 years, a barren spell which includes a gripping 2-1 loss to Australia in 2001.
Lions coach Warren Gatland said with Irish centre O'Driscoll leading the side, the tourists would be ready to start their visit to Australia with a win.
"This is his fourth Lions tour and he is a respected leader," Gatland said of O'Driscoll.
Warburton was given a steroid injection in Hong Kong and ordered to rest the knee for five days after taking a knock in training 10 days earlier. He was assessed again on Sunday before making the flight to Perth.
Five of Wednesday's team - Manu Tuilagi, Sean O'Brien, Ian Evans, Dan Cole and Rory Best - will be making their Lions debuts, while six of them played off the bench against the Barbarians.
"There were a lot of positives to come out of the first match in Hong Kong," Gatland said. "Our fitness and application were excellent and we operated well in the set-pieces.
"That said, it was our first match and naturally we were a bit rusty, and there is definitely room for improvement.
"Of course this is a completely new team and the challenge is to ensure that the selected players continue the on-field progress we are seeking."
Fullback Rob Kearney had a hamstring injury and would not play against either the Force or the Queensland Reds on Saturday in Brisbane, team officials said.
Meanwhile, the Force said they were preparing to give the Lions a torrid time in their first hit-out in Australia.
Force skipper Matt Hodgson said even if his team failed to beat the Lions, they at least want to leave them with a few bumps and bruises. They will name their side today. "I think any loss is going to be a blow to them," Hodgson said.
"They've probably come out and pencilled in victories in most of their games leading up to the test matches.
"So if we can't get the win, we're going to give them a solid performance and hopefully hurt a few of their bodies."
Former Wallaby scrumhalf Brett Sheehan reiterated that.
"We want it to be an extremely physical game," Sheehan said.
"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 [against the Barbarians].
"Maybe we can do the same and we'll see what happens."
The Wallabies have suffered more injuries in recent months and the squad trained in Sydney yesterday without flanker David Pocock, winger Digby Ioane, hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau, back rower Scott Higginbotham and lock Sitaleki Timani.
All of them would have been likely starters in the three-test series and, although Ioane and Higginbotham could still play a part, there is no doubt such absences will have an impact on the team.
15 Leigh Halfpenny; 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Brian O'Driscoll (capt), 12 Manu Tuilagi, 11 George North; 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray; 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Tom Croft; 5 Ian Evans, 4 Alun Wyn Jones; 3 Dan Cole, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: Tom Youngs, Mako Vunipola, Matt Stevens,Geoff Parling, Toby Faletau, Ben Youngs, Owen Farrell, Sean Maitland.