THE British and Irish Lions today sent out a strong message of intent by naming a powerful side to take on Bay of Plenty in their opening tour match on June 4.

The team, announced by Sir Clive Woodward ahead of the Lions' official Maori welcome in Rotorua, will be captained by Brian O'Driscoll and includes a number of favourites for Test selection.

"There is a huge sense of excitement and anticipation now our first game in New Zealand is so close," said Woodward.

"Because it's the first game, Bay of Plenty will want to give us a very tough match and we have selected a very strong side who will give us a good start to the tour."

Woodward has named key combinations, with Lawrence Dallaglio, Martyn Williams and Richard Hill starting in an experienced back row, and Paul O'Connell locking an impressive Lions scrum with Ben Kay.

O'Driscoll will be partnered in the centres by Gavin Henson, the Welshman who returns from a groin injury to make his Lions debut. Henson's Wales team-mate Dwayne Peel, considered favourite for the Test scrum-half berth, takes the number nine jersey, while Ireland's Ronan O'Gara, a veteran of the 2001 Lions tour, starts at fly-half.

England's Josh Lewsey has been named at full-back, while Tom Shanklin and Mark Cueto, who only joined the squad after Iain Balshaw withdrew injured from the tour, start on the wings.

"I was thrilled to hear I was selected," said Cueto. "Just over a week ago I didn't think I'd be here at all. To be in the team for the first match of the tour is fantastic. I can't wait."

O'Driscoll is also raring to go after being rested for the Lions' send-off against Argentina because Woodward felt it was important that the tour captain leads the side out in Rotorua this Saturday.

"It will be great to get out there and play the first match in New Zealand," said O'Driscoll. "We can't wait to get out and show what we can do."

The Lions expect a fierce collision with Bay of Plenty, and hope it will lay ideal foundations for a Test series win over the All Blacks.

British and Irish Lions team to play Bay of Plenty in Rotorua on June 4: J Lewsey, M Cueto, B O'Driscoll (capt), G Henson, T Shanklin, R O'Gara, D Peel, G Jenkins, G Bulloch, M Stevens, P O'Connell, B Kay, R Hill, M Williams, L Dallaglio. Replacements: S Thompson, A Sheridan, M O'Kelly, M Corry, M Dawson, C Hodgson, G D'Arcy.