British and Irish Lions tour: 5 things to look at as Warren Gatland names squad vs New Zealand Provincial Barbarians

Te'o and Sinckler have early chance to make a name for themselves as Jones and Sexton get much-needed minutes

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The Independent Online

Powerful pack will punch a hole in Barbarians

The size of Warren Gatland’s first British and Irish Lions pack is nothing short of ridiculous. The Welsh pair of Ross Moriarty and Taulupe Faletau bring plenty of power, not to mention that Sam Warburton is no pushover either, while Iain Henderson has already proven on the training field that he has the physicality to match Alun Wyn Jones in the second-row engine room.

However, it’s the powerhouse tighthead prop, Kyle Sinckler, who catches the eye. The boulder-like Harlequins front-row may be a smiling, laughing, go-lucky character off the field that wouldn’t be out of place on the comedy stage, but he is a wrecking ball monster on the field that could inflict some serious damage on the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians.

Throw in Moriarty to the mix, the man who left Owen Farrell in a heap during the Wales vs England Six Nations encounter, and the Barbarians pack may be in for a torrid time on Saturday.

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Sexton and Jones get minutes

Only two names feature in the starting XV that played in the domestic play-offs over the last two weeks in Alun Wyn Jones and Jonathan Sexton. Both have been short on game time of late, and Gatland has shown no hesitation in throwing them straight into the mix in order to get a few more minutes under their belts.

Jones suffered injury at the end of the Six Nations and returned just in time to play 80 minutes for the Ospreys in their season-ending Pro12 semi-final defeat by Munster, while Sexton was taken out of the firing line by his Leinster coaches in order to keep him fresh for their biggest games.

Both will hope to find their feet this weekend, and while that will likely mean they go somewhat under the radar, that will be exactly what Gatland will want to see.

One of Te’o and Sinckler could prove a breakout star

The two unknown quantities as far as the Lions go comes in 24-year-old prop Kyle Sinckler and 30-year-old rugby league convert Ben Te’o. Sinckler could prove to be one of the finds of the tour after forcing his way into the 41-man squad despite making just eight international appearances, while Te’o – who has also won the same number of caps – will hope to show the country of his birth what they’re missing.

Neither player is currently expected to start the first Test against the All Blacks, but they could benefit from the fact that they are playing in positions which carry a degree of uncertainty. Either Dan Cole or Tadhg Furlong should start in the Test side, but Sinckler is more than good enough to force his way in, while Te’o’s ability to play both inside and outside centre – with Gatland reluctant to pick Owen Farrell at 12 – should play into his hands.

Gatland facing a daunting prospect

No, not Warren, but his son Bryn. The 22-year-old will line up against his father’s side hoping to land an early blow against the touring party, many of which he has trained with during Gatland Senior’s time coaching Wales.

The problem for the young North Harbour stand-off though is that he faces a wave of brawn and muscle coming down his channel on Saturday night that could see him face a testing 80 minutes. The likes of Moriarty and Alun Wyn Jones will relishing carrying straight at the No 10, while having a strong runner like Te’o at inside centre is likely to see the Lions opt for first phase crash ball on more than one occasion.

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Warren Gatland's son, Bryn, starts for the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians at fly-half (Getty)

Bench could see the floodgates open

Gatland named a very strong replacements’ bench for the opening game that features a number of players who can be expected to start the next match against the Blues. The likes of Owen Farrell and Jamie George are natural gamechangers who, Gatland will hope, can take the game away from the Barbarians in the second half on Saturday.

In total, there are four of Saracens’ European champions lying in wait of their first rugby since the shock Premiership semi-final defeat by Exeter Chiefs, and given that Saracens are so used to hitting the accelerator after half-time, the Barbarians could find themselves on a hiding to nothing come the closing stages of the match.

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