Rugby union: O'Driscoll to lead Lions with Warburton still out

PERTH (AFP) - Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll will lead the British and Irish Lions in their first tour game in Australia this week with skipper Sam Warburton still out with a knee injury, officials said on Monday.

Warburton, who missed the Lions' 59-8 hammering of the Barbarians in Hong Kong, remains sidelined with ligament damage despite earlier comments that he could feature against Western Force on Wednesday.

The Force are promising a physical test for the 23-man match-day squad, which contains eight Lions debutants and will not include any players who started on Saturday.

The Lions are seeking their first Test series victory in 16 years, a barren spell which includes a gripping 1-2 loss to Australia in 2001.

Lions coach Warren Gatland said that with Irish centre O'Driscoll leading the side, the tourists would be ready to start their visit to Australia with a win.

"This is his fourth Lions tour and he is a respected leader," he said of the Irishman.

Warburton was given a steroid injection in Hong Kong and ordered to rest the knee for five days after taking a knock in training 10 days earlier. He was assessed again on Sunday before making the long-haul flight to Perth.

Five of Wednesday's team - Manu Tuilagi, Sean O'Brien, Ian Evans, Dan Cole and Rory Best - will be making their Lions debuts, while six of them played off the bench against the Barbarians.

"There were a lot of positives to come out of the first match in Hong Kong," Gatland said. "Our fitness and application were excellent and we operated well in the set pieces.

"That said, it was our first match and naturally we were a bit rusty, and there is definitely room for improvement.

"Of course this is a completely new team and the challenge is to ensure that the selected players continue the on-field progress we are seeking."

Fullback Rob Kearney has a hamstring injury and will not play against either the Force or the Queensland Reds on Saturday in Brisbane, team officials added.

Meanwhile, the Force said they are preparing to give the Lions a torrid time in their first hit-out in Australia.

Skipper Matt Hodgson said even if his team failed to beat the Lions, they at least want to leave them with a few bumps and bruises. They will name their side on Tuesday.

"I think any loss is going to be a blow to them," Hodgson said. "They've probably come out and pencilled in victories in most of their games leading up to the Test matches.

"So if we can't get the win, we're going to give them a solid performance and hopefully hurt a few of their bodies."

Lions team (15-1) - Leigh Halfpenny; Tommy Bowe, Brian O'Driscoll (captain), Manu Tuilagi, George North; Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray; Jamie Heaslip, Sean O'Brien, Tom Croft; Ian Evans, Alun Wyn Jones; Dan Cole, Rory Best, Cian Healy. Replacements: Tom Youngs, Mako Vunipola, Matt Stevens, Geoff Parling, Toby Faletau, Ben Youngs, Owen Farrell, Sean Maitland.