Lions 2013: Scrum king Alex Corbisiero named in Warren Gatland's side for First Test against Australia on Saturday
Mako Vunipola had been expected to start but will be used as an impact substitute instead
Thursday 20 June 2013
Alex Corbisiero is the surprise inclusion in the Lions team for the First Test in Brisbane on Saturday.
The England prop was not even named in the original party but is preferred to his countryman Mako Vunipola in a position which had originally been earmarked for the injured Cian Healy.
Corbisero is one of eight new test caps in a team led by Sam Warburton. George North has been declared fit to take his place on the wing while the in-form Jonathan Davies is named at centre in place of the injured Jamie Roberts.
For Corbisiero today represents a particularly sweet moment after a turbulent few months which included knee surgery in January and claims by Brian Smith, his director of rugby at London Irish, that the knee was a "degenerative" injury problem, and "a mess" . Those comments came as the prop revealed he would be signing for Northampton after seven years at the Exiles.
The 24-year-old, who has 18 caps, played in the memorable 38-21 England victory over New Zealand at Twickenham last December, but missed the RBS 6 Nations campaign with a recurrence of the knee problem that had flared up on the summer tour to South Africa.
The American born loose head prop has refused to put into print the depth of the anger he felt at Smith's very public comments and maintained that dignified stance after learning of his test selection at the Anglican Church Grammar School in Brisbane, where the team trained today.
"That's all in the past and I am looking forward to playing in a test match for the Lions and while some people may take it as a response to what has been said about my knee in the past, I am only concentrating on this match;" he said. ''Anyone who has doubts or has question marks over my career then I am trying every week to prove them wrong and show what I am capable of and that I have a long career ahead of me in this game.
"There were some dark times with my knee injury this season when you are sitting there frustrated and the recovery is taking time. Looking back now, I am glad I could see some light at the end of the tunnel and was patient making sure I got it right second time around.''
Corbisiero deferred the final exams for his part-time BA History course at Birbeck , University of London, to join the England tour to Argentina which he left before the first test in Salta to replace Healy in the tour party. On arrival, the prop had to produce one of his trademark "raps" which he makes up and impressed the rest of the players by singing one that gently mocked flanker Sean O'Brien, who had commented on how much pizza the new boy consumed.
Today Corbisiero paid tribute to the influence of Graham Rowntree, the Lions and England forwards coach, who always showed faith in the prop's ability to handle test rugby. Rowntree's input into the selection process would have highlighted the stronger scrumaging style of Corbisiero over his main rival, Vunipola.
Corbisiero said: ''I just want to put my hand up and let the coaches make the decision and I am thrilled to be involved this weekend. I am proud and excited about the challenge ahead and all I have done is focus on my set piece while being accurate about everything I do about the park.t is a tough call because there are so many great players in this squad.
"Graham Rowntree's help has been very important because he works on all the small details to make you more efficient . He wears his heart on his sleeve and makes you want to play for him and not let him down. I have benefitted massively from that.
"I have never played against Australia and was gutted to miss out on facing the Wallabies in the Autumn internationals and they are a pack who will put us under pressure. We have to meet they physically and put them under pressure. They won't take us lightly and it's going to be one of the battle grounds of the test match."
Vunipola said:" The coaches had a work with me and said that I have had a great tour so far and wanted me to come off the bench and have an impact. It's a role I have performed for England and while I would have loved to have started the test, it's a real honour to be in the match squad.
"Corbs has been there for more years and the idea is for him to tire them out so that when I come on I can get involved. A Lions test is going to be another step up and that adds to the pressure on me."
B Barnes 15 L Halfpenny
I Folau 14 A Cuthbert
A Ashley-Cooper 13 B O’Driscoll
C Leali’i fano 12 J Davies
D Ioane 11 G North
J O’Connor 10 J Sexton
W Genia 9 M Phillips
B Robinson 1 A Corbisiero
S Moore 2 T Youngs
B Alexander 3 A Jones
K Douglas 4 A W Jones
J Horwill (c) 5 P O’Connell
B Mowen 6 T Croft
M Hooper 7 S Warburton (c)
W Palu 8 J Heaslip
16 S Fainga’a
17 J Slipper
18 S Kepu
19 R Simmons
20 L Gill
21 N Phipps
22 P McCabe
23 K Beale
16 R Hibbard
17 M Vunipola
18 D Cole
19 G Parling
20 D Lydiate
21 B Youngs
22 O Farrell
23 S Maitland
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