Maitland wins bench role for first Lions test
SHANE DE BARRA
Kiwi Sean Maitland may well get the opportunity to come back and haunt his former coach Robbie Deans when the British and Irish Lions take on the Wallabies in the first game of their three-test series in Brisbane on Saturday night.
The former Crusader - who was given his break in Super Rugby by Deans back in 2008 - has been named on the bench, beating off strong competition from Ireland and Munster utility back Simon Zebo for the hotly-contested cover role.
In what's been a remarkable year for the 24-year-old, Tokoroa-born Maitland has gone from Canterbury to making his international debut for Scotland - who he qualified for on ancestry grounds - to the cusp of achieving the highest honour in British and Irish rugby, a test start for the Lions.
Currently playing his club rugby with Glasgow Warriors in the Rabo Direct Pro 12 and Heineken Cup competitions, Maitland can consider himself unlucky not to have made the test team proper, having impressed in each of his performances on tour so far.
In his last outing against Combined Country, Maitland lead the Lions in running metres, ground gained and offloads made after starting from full back following two previous outings on the wings. Such versatility may serve him well when hoping to make an impact in the later stages of Saturday night's test.
The team will be led by tour captain Sam Warburton, who can consider himself lucky to get a test start having missed the opening games of the tour through injury and following up with some less than inspiring performances against the Reds and Waratahs.
It will consist of eight Welsh, four Irish and three Englishmen, with Maitland Scotland's only hope of featuring in the first test.
In the back three coach Warren Gatland has gone for Welsh power duo Alex Cuthbert and George North on the wings, while the versatile Leigh Halfpenny gets the nod at fullback.
Irish legend Brian O' Driscoll will hope to relive his glory of 12 years ago when he pairs up with Jonathan Davies in the centres, while Johnny Sexton has been given the job of unleashing the combination, who are yet to start a game together on tour.
As predicted Mike Phillips has been given the nod at halfback and will hope to impose his physicality on Will Genia.
Gatland denied that the loss of Jamie Roberts and Manu Tuilagi would deny the Lions a physical element behind the scrum.
"I don't think Jonathan Davies at 105kg is a small midfielder," he said.
"Just because he is not as tall as the other two, I don't see him lacking a physical element at all.
"We've also got George North coming in and our nine [Phillips] and 10 [Sexton] are both big halfbacks too. What it does give us is a few more subtleties in midfield and we have got some pace and firepower in the team as well."
English prop Alex Corbisiero, who was called into the squad as a replacement for injured Irishman Cian Healy, packs down at loosehead alongside fellow Englishman Tom Youngs, while Welshman Adam Jones completes the front row at tighthead.
As it was four years ago in the first test against South Africa, former Lions captain Paul O'Connell will again pair up with Alun Wyn-Jones in the second row. In the backrow Warburton is joined by versatile English blindside Tom Croft and Irish No 8 powerhouse Jamie Heaslip.
Earlier, Australia named three debutants to face the Lions, including League/AFL convert Israel Folau, who will face a mammoth task in the form of North - the form winger in world rugby.
Reds lock James Horwill will lead the Wallabies who also feature James O'Connor at No 10 and Christian Leali'ifano and Ben Mowen as the other debutants.
Meanwhile, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has said he believes the series is Australia's to lose despite the Lions being earmarked as favourites.
I'll back the Aussies because they are at home," Hansen said. "Simply because Lions tours are so huge and you've got so many people to fit in and to give games, I always think the home team's got the big advantage. If both teams stay injury free, it will be a massive series and the loss of Jamie Roberts is a big blow for the Lions.
"What a Lions tour does, as we saw in New Zealand in 2005, is bring out the patriotism of the home team's supporters. It becomes a national thing. What the Lions have shown is how rugby in the four home unions has improved, especially in Wales and England."
Lions: Leigh Halfpenny, Alex Cuthbert, Brian O'Driscoll, Jonathan Davies, George North, Jonathan Sexton, Mike Phillips; Alex Corbisiero, Tom Youngs, Adam Jones, Alun Wyn Jones, Paul O'Connell, Tom Croft, Sam Warburton, Jamie Heaslip. Reserves: Richard Hibbard, Makovina Vunipola, Dan Cole, Geoff Parling, Dan Lydiate, Ben Youngs, Owen Farrell, Sean Maitland.
Wallabies: Berrick Barnes, Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Christian Lealiifano, Digby Ioane, James O'Connor, Will Genia; Wycliff Palu, Michael Hooper, Ben Mowen, James Horwill (capt), Kane Douglas, Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, Benn Robinson. Reserves: Saia Faingaa, James Slipper, Sekope Kepu, Rob Simmons, Liam Gill, Nick Phipps, Pat McCabe, Kurtley Beale.
- The Press