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Warren Gatland has hailed Robbie Henshaw as being "world class" ahead of the British & Irish Lions' first warm-up match. 

The Ireland centre will start alongside his former Connacht teammate Bundee Aki at Murrayfield for Saturday's test with Japan.

Gatland says he's coming to the game with a clean slate in terms of team composition for the test matches with the Springboks next month.

But given how the head coach has spoken about Henshaw, the 28-year old must feel confident about a starting berth in South Africa.

"I thought Robbie was the outstanding midfielder in the Six Nations," Gatland said from Jersey on Tuesday.

"He’s great in the air. I have seen him develop, improve and mature from four years ago.

"That's been probably one of the biggest highlights for me, just in terms of how he has developed into an absolute world-class midfielder."

Aki was seen as one of the unexpected call-ups for this summer's Lions squad, but Gatland suggests the Ireland international can prove very useful in the coming weeks, especially alongside Henshaw.

“That combination obviously goes back to the Connacht days," the head coach said, "It's the two Connacht lads coming together and I think they are obviously great mates as well, so that kinda helps.

"A lot of people sort of see Bundee as someone - and we know he is capable of getting the ball across the gain-line - but he's got a lot more than just that to offer.

“He has got some real rugby skill, some great footwork and a passing and offloading game. So, we are expecting some real quality rugby out of both of those two men."

Someone else poised to play a key role for Gatland and co in South Africa is Owen Farrell.

The England player has been named among the replacements for the Japan match, but has also come out on top in a poll among the Lions players.

"We did an administration day and I asked the players to pick a leadership group, which we have done," Gatland revealed.

"I thought it was interesting that he ended up with the most votes out of anyone in the leadership group, so that speaks volumes for the respect in which he is held by all the players in the group, not just the England players.

"Knowing him as a competitor he will go out and make the most of his opportunities and I expect him to have a great tour."

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British & Irish Lions Bundee Aki Lions Robbie Henshaw Warren Gatland

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