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No England player in starting XV as Lions name team to play Japan on Saturday

By Liam Heagney

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Warren Gatland has chosen his team for the opening match of the 2021 Lions tour, naming six Irish, five Welsh and four Scots in an Alun Wyn Jones-skippered XV that will start next Saturday’s pre-departure fixture versus Japan at Murrayfield. A four-strong England representation is restricted to bench duty.

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The Lions initially assembled last week for their South African tour with just 25 of their squad of 37 available for week one due to club commitments and those players now take up 21 of the places in the matchday 23 that will take on the Japanese before they fly to the southern hemisphere for their match against the Emirates Lions in Johannesburg on July 3.

The only exception in the week-one-players-only Lions team is the inclusion of Saracens pair Owen Farrell and Jamie George, who provide bench cover this Saturday in Edinburgh despite not being with the Lions last week. Gatland now has 33 of his 37 squad assembled in Jersey with the Exeter quartet of Sam Simmonds, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Jonny Hill and Stuart Hogg the players he has been left waiting on due to their involvement in next Saturday’s Gallagher Premiership final versus Harlequins at Twickenham.

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His five-strong Saracens contingent of Farrell, Elliot Daly, Mako Vunipola, George and Maro Itoje all linked up with the squad in Jersey in recent days as did Finn Russell of Racing 92, Kyle Sinckler of Bristol and Tom Curry of Sale following the completion of their respective club campaigns.

Speaking about his Lions team, Gatland said: “We’re anticipating a tough game against Japan – a side that likes to play at a high-tempo and shift the ball. We saw throughout the World Cup they have attacking threats across the park and a solid defence and set-piece.

“I’m pleased with the progress we have made during our training camp in Jersey so far, but we have a long way to go. You can see that the squad are starting to get to grips with our game strategies but, as always with a Lions tour, this takes time to bed in. We are in a good place though and I can tell there is a lot more to come from this group.

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“Everyone in the squad will get a start before the start of the Test series, so each member of the squad can put their hand up for Test selection. We are absolutely delighted to be playing in front of 16,500 supporters in Edinburgh. I’m sure the crowd will give the players an enormous lift before we depart for South Africa on Sunday.”

Saturday’s match at Murrayfield is the first time the Lions will play on home soil since the 2005 draw with Argentina in Cardiff before they headed to New Zealand for their tour there.

THE LIONS (vs Japan, Saturday – 3pm)
15. Liam Williams (Scarlets, Wales) #833
14. Josh Adams (Cardiff Rugby, Wales)
13. Robbie Henshaw (Leinster Rugby, Ireland) #824
12. Bundee Aki (Connacht Rugby, Ireland)
11. Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh Rugby, Scotland)
10. Dan Biggar (Northampton Saints, Wales) #821
9. Conor Murray (Munster Rugby, Ireland) #790
1. Rory Sutherland (Edinburgh Rugby, Scotland)
2. Ken Owens (Scarlets, Wales) #829
3. Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland)
4. Iain Henderson (Ulster Rugby, Ireland) #808
5. Alun Wyn Jones – Captain (Ospreys, Wales) #761
6.Tadhg Beirne (Munster Rugby, Ireland)
7. Hamish Watson (Edinburgh Rugby, Scotland)
8. Jack Conan (Leinster Rugby, Ireland)

Replacements:
16. Jamie George (Saracens, England) #819
17. Wyn Jones (Scarlets, Wales)
18. Tadhg Furlong (Leinster Rugby, Ireland) #818
19. Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints, England) #826
20. Taulupe Faletau (Bath Rugby, Wales) #779
21. Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland)
22. Owen Farrell (Saracens, England) #780
23. Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby, England) #816

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No England player in starting XV as Lions name team to play Japan on Saturday

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