BRITISH and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland has been forced to consider life without captain Sam Warburton before a minute of the current tour has been played after the flanker was injured in training.
Warburton is still recuperating from a knock to the knee suffered last week, leaving Gatland sweating on whether to include him in Saturday’s meeting with the Barbarians in Hong Kong.
Ireland skipper Paul O’Connell is tipped to inherit captaincy duties if Gatland decides against risking Welshman Warburton when he names his team for the tour opener this morning.
“Sam had a slight bump in training last week and we just want to give him time before Saturday,” said Lions assistant coach Rob Howley. “We will assess it over the next 24 hours. The bump was to his knee. It’s just a bit puffy, that’s all. There is a lot of strength in depth within the 37 players and the quality we have in the back row is there for all to see.”
Gatland’s XV is expected to be dominated by players he knows best from his erstwhile job as Wales head coach, although England and Saracens pair Owen Farrell and Mako Vunipola are fancied to start.
The one-off fixture before the tour begins in earnest in Australia next month is set to be played in gruelling heat, with evenings typically close to 30C, and energy sapping humidity levels nudging 90 per cent.
“The heat is going to take its toll and the stress they will be under will be huge, but that is something that will benefit us when we get to Australia,” Howley added.
“The players might not feel like that about it this weekend, but it will put their decision-making under pressure as well, which is good for us.”
Italy No8 Sergio Parisse has been named BaaBaas captain for Saturday’s match, with uncapped Wasps pair Elliot Daly and Sam Jones, Saracens hooker Schalk Brits and Harlequins fly-half Nick Evans also among coach Dai Young’s selection.
Jared Payne (Ulster), Joe Rokocoko (New Zealand), Elliot Daly (Wasps), Casey Laulala (Munster/New Zealand), Takudzwa Ngwenya (Biarritz/USA), Nick Evans (Harlequins/New Zealand), Dimitri Yachvili (Biarritz/France); Paul James (Bath/Wales), Schalk Brits (Saracens/South Africa), Martin Castrogiovanni (Leicester/Italy), Marco Wentzel (Wasps/South Africa), Dean Mumm (Exeter/Australia), Samu Manoa (N’hampton/USA), Sam Jones (Wasps), Sergio Parisse (C) (S Francais/Italy;
Reps: Leonardo Ghiraldini (Treviso/ Italy), Duncan Jones (Ospreys/ Wales), Andrea Lo Cicero (Racing Metro/Italy), Jim Hamilton (Gloucester/ Scotland), Imanol Harinordoquy (Biarritz/France), Kahn Fotuali’i (Ospreys/Samoa), James Hook (Perpignan, Wales), Mike Tindall (Gloucester, England)