Brian O’Driscoll will captain the British and Irish Lions against Western Force tomorrow, but his fellow Ireland international Rob Kearney has emerged as an early tour injury concern.
Leinster full-back Kearney has a hamstring problem and Lions head coach Warren Gatland is planning to keep a close eye on his progress.
Gatland said: “He is a little bit of a concern for us at the moment. He’s got a grade one tear and we are going to see how he responds, so we’ve got to be potentially prepared that that hamstring might not heal as quickly as we would like.
“We want to give him some time. We scanned him in Hong Kong, it came back as a grade one tear and the medics have put in a plan for the next week or so.
“We feel like we’ve got cover at the moment with Leigh Halfpenny and Stuart Hogg, and obviously Sean Maitland has played quite a lot at full-back as well.”
O’Driscoll, the 2005 Lions tour captain in New Zealand whose trip was cruelly cut short when he was spear-tackled out of the first Test, leads a powerful side containing eight Irishmen, four Welsh and three English.
As expected, there are 15 changes from the side that crushed the Barbarians 59-8 in hot and humid Hong Kong three days ago, with Halfpenny, wing Tommy Bowe, centre Manu Tuilagi, hooker Rory Best and flanker Tom Croft among those who make their first tour starts. Four of the side that started at Hong Kong Stadium – prop Mako Vunipola, No 8 Toby Faletau, fly-half Owen Farrell and Scotland wing Sean Maitland – are on bench duty this time around.
Tour skipper Sam Warburton is kept waiting for his first appearance after careful management of a knee injury, but that moment looks set to arrive against Queensland Reds in Brisbane next Saturday.
O’Driscoll is now on his fourth Lions tour and he has returned to Australia 12 years after making a scintillating contribution, including an unforgettable solo try during the first Test victory over the Wallabies.
“Yes, it was a fantastic feeling,” he said. “I was a young guy just starting out on my career.
“I haven’t lost any of the buzz for the feeling of being involved with the British and Irish Lions. It is a very, very special place to be.
“We’re pleased by how we’ve started but we have to keep building.”
BRITISH AND IRISH LIONS TEAM (to play Western Force tomorrow): L Halfpenny (Wales); T Bowe (Ireland), B O’Driscoll (Ireland, capt), M Tuilagi (England), G North (Wales); J Sexton (Ireland), C Murray (Ireland); C Healy (Ireland), R Best (Ireland), D Cole (England), A-W Jones (Wales), I Evans (Wales), T Croft (England), S O’Brien (Ireland), J Heaslip (Ireland). Replacements: T Youngs (England), M Vunipola (England), M Stevens (England), G Parling (England), T Faletau (Wales), B Youngs (England), O Farrell (England), S Maitland (Scotland).