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Alex Corbisiero has been selected to play for the Lions in the first Test against the Wallabies. David Rogers / Getty Images
Alex Corbisiero has been selected to play for the Lions in the first Test against the Wallabies. David Rogers / Getty Images

Eight Welsh Lions picked for first Test against Australia

Coach Warren Gatland rewards players who performed well in last week's 47-17 win over New South Wales Waratahs in Sydney with spot in Saturday's game.

BRISBANE // Flanker Sam Warburton will captain a British & Irish Lions team containing eight Welshmen but few suprises in the first Test against Australia at Lang Park on Saturday.

After six warm-up matches and months of conjecture, coach Warren Gatland had some tough decisions to make but said that last week's 47-17 win over New South Wales Waratahs in Sydney had helped him settle on his 23.

"There was a bit of discussion about the make-up of the back row, the front row and the middle particularly," Gatland told a news conference after naming his team. "But the players have been rewarded for that positive performance against the Waratahs."

Gatland has added eight players to his initial squad at various times, mainly to cover injury, but only England prop Alex Corbisiero has emerged to make the Test squad.

George North, who had been struggling with a hamstring strain, passed a fitness test and will line up on one wing with his Wales teammate Alex Cuthbert on the other.

Despite the rash of injuries to the backline, only Irish winger Tommy Bowe, Welsh centre Jamie Roberts and England midfield back Manu Tuilagi were unavailable for selection.

"Hopefully they will be available for next week," said Gatland, looking ahead to the second Test in Melbourne on June 29.

The absence of Roberts, another player struggling with a hamstring injury, means Jonathan Davies pairs up with Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll in the centres.

Gatland said he did not think the loss of Roberts would have a major impact on the power of his midfield.

"I don't think Jonathan Davies at 105kg is a small midfielder," he said. "It gives us a bit more subtlety in the midfield options, with pace and firepower out wide."

The back row was an area which, before the tour, many thought would be dominated by Welshmen but England blindside Tom Croft and Irish number eight Jamie Heaslip have played their way into the side to join skipper and openside Warburton.

"Happy days," a grinning Warburton said of being handed the Test start. "It's awesome, as a young boy it's what you want to be, a Lions Test captain, and I'm just enjoying it at the moment."

"The boys not on board are very supportive. It's the first one of three [Tests] and there is still a long way to go."

The experienced pairing of Alun Wyn Jones and Paul O'Connell will make up the second row after impressive performances against the Waratahs.

Englishman Tom Youngs's selection over Richard Hibbard at hooker was another minor surprise and Gatland said Mako Vunipola had been unlucky to have been pipped by Corbisiero for a place in the front row, which is completed by Welshman Adam Jones.

"Mako coming off the bench will give us impetus, but Alex is better technically and will give us the edge in the scrum," Gatland said of his loosehead. "Alex might also prove to be a better combination with Tom Youngs and Adam Jones, but there's no doubt Mako will have an impact."

Ireland's Jonny Sexton lines up at flyhalf in a halfback partnership with Welshman Mike Phillips, while fullback Leigh Halfpenny, who has converted 22 of 23 place kicks on tour, was the least surprising name on the teamsheet.

New Zealand-born Scotland winger Sean Maitland and England flyhalf Owen Farrell will also be hoping to make an impact from the bench after being named as backline cover.

"We think we've got the firepower to play some good rugby," Gatland said. "We've come here to show the Australian public that we can play good rugby and I think we've done that."

Team

15-Leigh Halfpenny (Wales), 14-Alex Cuthbert (Wales), 13-Brian O'Driscoll (Ireland), 12-Jonathan Davies (Wales), 11-George North (Wales), 10-Jonathan Sexton (Ireland), 9-Mike Phillips (Wales), 8-Jamie Heaslip (Ireland), 7-Sam Warburton (Wales, captain), 6-Tom Croft (England), 5-Paul O'Connell (Ireland), 4-Alun Wyn Jones (Wales), 3-Adam Jones (Wales), 2-Tom Youngs (England), 1-Alex Corbisiero (England)

Replacements

16-Richard Hibbard (Wales), 17-Mako Vunipola (England), 18-Dan Cole (England), 19-Geoff Parling (England), 20-Dan Lydiate (Wales), 21-Ben Youngs (England), 22-Owen Farrell (England), 23-Sean Maitland (Scotland)

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