Sam Warburton aims to hit ground running for the Lions
Skipper Sam Warburton says he wants to make up for lost time as he finally makes his tour debut for the British & Irish Lions against the Queensland Reds in Brisbane today.
The Welsh open-side flanker has overcome a knee injury that sidelined him from the Lions' opening two lopsided wins in the build-up to the June 22 first test against the Wallabies in Brisbane.
The 24-year-old skipper will be joined by compatriots Toby Faletau and Dan Lydiate in an-all Welsh back row trying to play its way into first test selection.
Warburton's debut will make him the 800th player to represent the British and Irish Lions in their rich 125-year history.
Warburton said he needed to hit form quickly to secure his test spot following outstanding performances by Justin Tipuric and Sean O'Brien in the No7 jersey in the opening tour games.
"All the back-rowers have done exceptionally well, which makes selection very difficult," he said. "I've been thinking about this game for quite a while, it can't come quick enough, and I'm desperate to get out on the pitch.
"It's been tough to watch the last two games knowing the players have got their jerseys in their kit bags to take home with them and I haven't got one yet.
"It's been the best three weeks of my rugby career since we've got together. I've absolutely loved it, even though I haven't played."
Warburton will be one of six players to make their run-on tour debuts against the Reds, with prop Gethin Jenkins, English brothers Tom and Ben Youngs, prop Matt Stevens and lock Geoff Parling all getting their first starting chances.
The Reds, Super Rugby champions two years ago, are steeling themselves for a determined effort against the Lions. The tourists ran in 17 tries in their 59-8 and 69-17 respective victories over the Barbarians and Western Force.
Queensland coaching boss Ewen McKenzie has picked his strongest available side, and although the home side will be missing six test stars, they will still feature 12 capped Wallabies, including out-of-favour fly-half Quade Cooper.
"[Cooper] is an outstanding player with great footwork and I'm sure he'll pose a different threat at 10 than what we've faced in the last two weeks," Warburton said. "He'll definitely be an attacking threat, and that's what you want to test your defence."
Meanwhile, Irish loosehead prop Cian Healy was cleared of misconduct at a disciplinary hearing yesterday after being accused of biting an opponent during the Lions' match against Western Force.
Healy, who suffered suspected ankle ligament damage during the game and was taken off the field of play on a stretcher, was cited after Western Force scrum-half Brett Sheehan complained to the referee that he had been bitten during the first half of the Lions' victory in Perth on Wednesday.
However, judicial officer Nigel Hampton found insufficient evidence to support the allegations, the Australian Rugby Union said.
"There is no conclusive video evidence of the incident, and post-match it was not possible to distinguish any discernible bite marks outside of the 'regular' marks usually found following a rugby match," Hampton said in his findings.
"I cannot find proven on the balance of probabilities that there was a deliberate bite here, and the citing complaint is not upheld," he added.