x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Earls and Roberts picked for Lions opener

Irish centre Keith Earls and Welshman Jamie Roberts will form a fresh midfield pairing for the British and Irish Lions in their opening match of their South Africa tour against the Royal XV.

JOHANNESBURG // Irish centre Keith Earls and Welshman Jamie Roberts will form a fresh midfield pairing for the British and Irish Lions in their opening match of their South Africa tour against the Royal XV on Saturday. Nine players will make their debuts for the Lions, although there is plenty of experience in the line-up. Paul O'Connell will captain the side for the match in Phokeng, the first of six warm-up matches before the first Test against South Africa in Durban on June 20.

"I think it is a good mix of experience and youth. While we have a lot of players making their Lions debuts, there is a huge amount of international experience in the team," coach Ian McGeechan said today. "For young men such as Keith Earls and Jamie Roberts it will be a day to remember and they will be thrilled to get an early taste of match action on the tour. "Outside these guys is the proven experienced combination of the Ospreys' back three of (Lee) Byrne, (Tommy) Bowe and Shane Williams.

"I want to look at different combinations, guys who have never played together before. All the players have huge attributes and hopefully they will bring those to the fore in combination with different players. Hopefully the players will bring the best out of each other." English forward Joe Worsley will win his first Lions cap alongside Andy Powell and Martyn Williams and McGeechan said the 31-year-old provided a steely defensive foil to the two more mobile Welshmen.

"Even with all his experience, Joe has shown in training that he is still keen to keep developing his game. He is very strong defensively and reads the game well, and will provide good balance for the other two in the back row. "He had one of his best international seasons and is building on that. He has established himself with consistent performances and he is relaxed and enjoying himself, which is very important too. It's important to see his role in relation to the others around him."

15-Lee Byrne, 14-Tommy Bowe, 13-Keith Earls, 12-Jamie Roberts, 11-Shane Williams, 10-Ronan O'Gara, 9-Mike Blair, 8-Andy Powell, 7-Martyn Williams, 6-Joe Worsley, 5-Paul O'Connell (captain), 4-Simon Shaw, 3-Adam Jones, 2-Matthew Rees, 1-Andrew Sheridan. *Reuters