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Lions skipper Warburton out of Barbarians warm-up

By Dean Irvine, CNN
updated 6:39 AM EDT, Thu May 30, 2013
  • British and Irish Lions captain Sam Warburton sidelined with knee injury
  • Irish lock Paul O'Connell takes on skipper duties against Barbarians
  • Saturday's match in Hong Kong is the warm-up to a six-week tour to Australia
  • The Lions last won a series in 1997 in South Africa

Hong Kong (CNN) -- Sam Warburton will have to wait to join the roar of rugby union's British and Irish Lions after injury ruled out the Welsh captain for the opening match of their 2013 tour.

The 24-year-old star was picked as captain on his debut tour but a knee ligament injury has put the flanker on the sidelines for Saturday's warm-up against the Barbarians in Hong Kong.

The captain's armband goes to Irish forward Paul O'Connell, who led the Lions on their tour of South Africa in 2009.

Form and fitness meant O'Connell, on his third Lions tour, didn't think he would even make the squad a few months ago.

"Around Christmas and even a few months after, I certainly didn't think I'd be here and now captaining the side is fantastic," said the 33-year-old.

"Sam has run a great ship for the past few weeks and I am sure he is disappointed not to be leading the guys out in the first game. But for me personally I am thrilled.

Read: Welsh star Warburton to lead out Lions

Warburton was an integral part of the Welsh team who won the 2013 Six Nations -- the northern hemisphere's annual tournament -- but he now faces his own battle back to form.

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"He's had a sore knee for the last ten days," Lions head coach Warren Gatland explained in a media conference.

"He's had an injection and been told to stay off it. It's so early on in the tour that it's just not worth the risk."

Sean O'Brien, Rob Kearney and Gethin Jenkins have also been added to the injured list ahead of the weekend.

In a hot and humid Hong Kong, O'Connell is set to lead out the team against the Barbarians -- a scratch team of international players -- with 17 of the 23 players in the Lions' match-day squad pulling on the team jersey for the first time.

It is the first match of the 10-game tour which will see the Lions fly to Australia on Sunday for three Test matches against the Wallabies with the first game in Brisbane on June 22.

The full 37-man squad -- comprised of 15 Welsh, 10 Irish, nine English and three Scottish players --only came together last week and have been training in testing conditions for the past two days.

Pitch-side cooling fans were employed during practice sessions to try and negate the temperature that was in excess of 31C (88F) with over 80% humidity. "They're not ideal conditions," commented O'Connell.

With little preparation time, Gatland remains hopeful that his Lions side will be "incredibly positive" in their play.

"It's important when you go to Australia that you're positive," said the New Zealander. "We want to show the Australian public we're capable of moving the ball and scoring lots of tries.

"Ultimately though I don't care about the style as long as we win."

The Lions head Down Under again in 2013 determined to avenge their defeat by the Australians in 2001.

Adam Jones -- one of nine Welshman picked for the opening match -- revealed the squad are revisiting the Lions' victory in South Africa 16 years ago as inspiration.

"The majority of our boys will have watched the 1997 documentary (of the tour) and that sticks in your mind," said prop Jones. "What an experience that was."

The Lions comes together every four years and are seen as something of a super team featuring the best of Britain and Ireland's rugby talent.

The concept of a combined touring Lions side began in 1891 when a group of English and Scottish players took part in a three-Test series against South Africa under the auspices of the Rugby Football Union.

In 1899, the tourists fielded players from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland for the first time as they traveled to Australia to provide them with their first international competition

A relatively inexperienced Lions squad will now retread their steps hoping to scent victory.

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