Sean O'Brien set for first appearance of 2017 Lions tour

Sean O'Brien set for first appearance of 2017 Lions tour

By Simon Lewis, Christchurch

Sean O'Brien will make his first appearance of the 2017 tour of New Zealand after being named in Warren Gatland's starting XV to face the Super League-leading Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday.

The Ireland back row, who started the 2013 series-clinching win over Australia in Sydney, will be making his return from a calf injury that has sidelined him since Leinster's Champions Cup quarter-final victory over Wasps on April 1.

O'Brien will start at openside flanker at AMI Stadium alongside Irish team-mate and Munster captain Peter O'Mahony with Wales's Taulupe Faletau at No.8.

Also making getting his first taste of action on this tour is Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray, who will partner England fly-half Owen Farrell in a half-back partnership that would be many people's preference to start the Test series with the All Blacks, starting June 24.

With this selection for game three of the tour, head coach Gatland has stuck to his word and given starts to all 41 players in his squad with Wales wing George North and centre Jon Davies the others to get their first minutes in Christchurch.

Tighthead prop Tadhg Furlong is the other Irish starter in a team to be captained by Wales skipper Alun Wyn Jones, who captained the Lions in the third Test against the Wallabies four years ago and is a veteran of the 2009 tour to South Africa. Jones partners George Kruis in the second row.

There are places on the bench for loosehead prop Jack McGrath, back row CJ Stander and fly-half Johnny Sexton, who also featured in the first two matches, starting the win over the Provincial Barbarians and coming off the bench for Dan Biggar in the 35th minute of Wednesday night's loss to the Blues in Auckland.

“The aim was always to start everyone in the first three matches and this selection ensures that we achieve this,” Gatland said on Thursday as the team arrived in Christchurch.

"This is an experienced team with nine of the starting 15 players having featured in 2013. Our squad is working hard and we are seeing improvement in their performances both at training and in the games.

"Last night's results against the Blues was disappointing and we know we can't afford to give away so many penalties. We are looking forward to the clash against the Crusaders and we expect a tough game against the most successful team in Super Rugby history.”

Earlier on Thursday, the Crusaders, unbeaten in all 14 Super Rugby games this season, named a matchday squad including seven of their 10 team members named by New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen in his All Blacks squad to face the Lions over three Tests.

The Crusaders will start with all-Test front five in the pack as well as full-back Israel Dagg while prop Wyatt Crockett was named on the bench. Skipper Kieran Read and Ryan Crotty are currently injured, although both were named in the New Zealand squad.

CRUSADERS: I Dagg; S Tamanvivalu, Jack Goodhue, D Havili, G Bridge; R Mo'unga, B Hall; J Moody, C Taylor, O Franks; L Romano, S Whitelock -captain; H Bedwell-Curtis, M Todd, J Taufua.

Replacements: B Funnell, W Crockett, M Alaalatoa, Q Strange, J Brown, M Drummond, M Hunt, T Bateman.

BRITISH & IRISH LIONS (v Crusaders, Saturday, June 10): S Hogg (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland); G North (Northampton Saints, Wales), J Davies (Scarlets, Wales), B Te'o (Worcester Warriors, England),L Williams (Scarlets, Wales); O Farrell (Saracens, England), C Murray – Munster, Ireland; M Vunipola (Saracens, England), J George (Saracens, England), T Furlong (Leinster, Ireland); A W Jones (Ospreys, Wales) - captain, G Kruis (Saracens, England); P O'Mahony (Munster, Ireland), S O'Brien (Leinster, Ireland), T Faletau – Bath Rugby, Wales).

Replacements: K Owens (Scarlets, Wales), J McGrath (Leinster, Ireland), D Cole (Leicester, England), M Itoje (Saracens, England), CJ Stander (Munster, Ireland), R Webb (Ospreys, Wales), J Sexton (Leinster, Ireland), A Watson (Bath Rugby, England).

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