British and Irish Lions: Six Irish in starting team for warm-up test against Japan

Iain Henderson, Tadhg Beirne and Jack Conan will all start in pack for Saturday’s match

All of the remaining seven Ireland players in the British and Irish Lions squad for the tour to South Africa have been named in the matchday squad for the warm-up test against Japan in Murrayfield this Saturday (kick-off 3pm), with all but one of them starting.

The old Connacht midfield axis of Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw will be re-united, and Conor Murray is at scrumhalf, while Iain Henderson, Tadhg Beirne and Jack Conan will all start in the pack.

Tadhg Furlong is on the bench as Warren Gatland gives starts to the Scottish props Rory Sutherland and Zander Fagerson, as well as flanker Hamish Watson and winger Duhan van der Merwe for what will be a first ever Lions match in Scotland.

A five-strong Welsh contingent featuring captain Alun Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Dan Biggar, Josh Adams and Liam Williams completes an all-Celtic starting XV. With Celtic interest in the Rainbow Cup having long since faded, this selection reflects not only their availability from the outset of the preparatory training camp in Jersey but perhaps also their need for game time.


Although Ireland hooker Ronan Kelleher has been training with the rest of the initial 26 players which assembled in Jersey last Sunday week, as expected Jamie George has been named on the bench as back-up to Ken Owens.

George is among the five-man Saracens' contingent arrived on Monday along with Finn Russell, Kyle Sinckler and Tom Curry having arrived on Sunday.

The third hooker in the Lions squad, Luke Cowan-Dickie, is one of the Exeter quartet who will link up with the remainder of the Lions after Saturday's Premiership final against Harlequins at Twickenham. Another of the Saracens' quintet, Owen Farrell, is also named among the replacements.

Saturday's game, labelled the Vodafone Lions 1888 Cup, will see 16,500 supporters in attendance for the first-ever clash between the Lions and Japan, who will be playing their first match since their 2019 Rugby World Cup quarter-final defeat by South Africa in Tokyo. The match will be shown live on Channel 4.

“We’re anticipating a tough game against Japan - a side that like to play at a high-tempo and shift the ball,” said Gatland.

“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’ve made during our training camp in Jersey so far, but we’ve 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’re in a good place though and I can tell there’s a lot more to come from this group.

“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 16,000 supporters in Edinburgh. I’m sure the crowd will give the players an enormous lift before we depart for South Africa on Sunday.”

The Lions’ eight-game Tour to South Africa starts on Saturday week, July 3rd, when they play the Emirates Lions at Emirates Airline Park in Johannesburg. Three weeks later, Cape Town Stadium will host the first of the three-match test series, with the remaining two tests to be played in Johannesburg.

LIONS: Liam Williams (Scarlets, Wales); Josh Adams (Cardiff Rugby, Wales), Robbie Henshaw (Leinster Rugby, Ireland), Bundee Aki (Connacht Rugby, Ireland), Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh Rugby, Scotland); Dan Biggar (Northampton Saints, Wales), Conor Murray (Munster Rugby, Ireland); Rory Sutherland (Edinburgh Rugby, Scotland), Ken Owens (Scarlets, Wales), Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland); Iain Henderson (Ulster Rugby, Ireland), Alun Wyn Jones - Captain (Ospreys, Wales); Tadhg Beirne (Munster Rugby, Ireland), Hamish Watson (Edinburgh Rugby, Scotland), Jack Conan (Leinster Rugby, Ireland).

Replacements: Jamie George (Saracens, England), Wyn Jones (Scarlets, Wales),Tadhg Furlong (Leinster Rugby, Ireland), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints, England), Taulupe Faletau (Bath Rugby, Wales), Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland), Owen Farrell (Saracens, England), Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby, England).

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times