HONG KONG (AP) — Paul O'Connell will pick up where he left off in 2009 and captain the British and Irish Lions in their tour-opening match against the Barbarians at Hong Kong Stadium on Saturday.

The Irish lock led the 2009 tour to South Africa, but will stand in this time for Sam Warburton, the Welsh flanker resting a knee injury picked up in training before flying to Asia.

Warburton could have played but was being saved for next weekend's against the Queensland Reds in Brisbane, Lions coach Warren Gatland said on Thursday.

"He was desperate to play and could have done it ... but we just felt it's just so early in the tour, it's just not worth the risk with his knee," Gatland said.

"The medics have given him an injection and said for him to just stay off it for about five days."

O'Connell was proud, nevertheless.

"I'm thrilled," he said. "But disappointed for Sam. He's run a great ship for the past few weeks so I'm sure he is disappointed not to lead the boys out for the first game."

As expected, Gatland chose no starters who were involved in European or English finals last weekend. That meant the first side was dominated by Welshmen, nine starting and two more in the reserves. The matchday 23 includes all three Scots, five Irishmen and four Englishmen.

Eleven starters will make their Lions debuts. O'Connell, prop Adam Jones, scrumhalf Mike Phillips and center Jamie Roberts also played in the opening game four years ago.

"We have a lot of players making their debuts for the Lions," Gatland said. "At the same time we have a hard core of experience, with six former Lions sharing 430 caps between them and 19 Lions tests."

After this match, the Lions play nine more in Australia, including three tests with the Wallabies.

The Lions tour every four years to the southern hemisphere, but haven't had a series win since 1997 in South Africa.

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Lions: Stuart Hogg, Alex Cuthbert, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, Sean Maitland, Owen Farrell, Mike Phillips; Toby Faletau, Dan Lydiate, Justin Tipuric, Paul O'Connell (captain), Richie Gray, Adam Jones, Richard Hibbard, Mako Vunipola. Reserves: Tom Youngs, Cian Healy, Matt Stevens, Alun-Wyn Jones, Jamie Heaslip, Conor Murray, Jonathan Sexton, George North.

 

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