Saturday, 1 June 2013

British & Irish Lions 59 , Barbarians 8

The curtain raiser to the tour Down Under took place late evening in Hong Kong today in sweltering heat. The players were soaked to the skin within minutes and you could see the sweat dripping off them as the Lions despatched the Baa-Baa's with plenty to spare.

I was surprised by the starting 15. Warren Gatland was perceived by many to have shown a Welsh, if not anti-English (or Irish) bias in his squad selection but he obviously wasn't concerned at all about the opinions of others with his pre-match selection of 9 Welsh, 3 Scots, 2 English and a solitary Irish starter. He did at least hand the captaincy to Paul O'Connell.

Gatland will have few detractors for his team selection after a powerful showing in trying circumstances. Owen Farrell visibly struggled with the conditions most, fumbling contact and passing low on a number of occasions which slowed the game. The very strong Lions pack dominated the Baa-Baa's and a more picky referee could have penalised them even more as they continued to bind illegally and collapse the scrum at every opportunity to avoid being marched backwards. 

Richie Gray held his own alongside O'Connell and then Wyn-Jones when O'Connell went off for running repairs. He flagged towards the end but will be pleased with his debut. They were actually 11 debutants for the Lions including the other two Scots in the squad, Stuart Hogg (youngest player at 21) and Sean Maitland. Hogg worked a couple of great positions but poor passes prevented him from bursting clear. Maitland saw less of the ball and will probably feel a tad disappointed, although he will be a prized target for the Aussies when he does feature.

The rest of the game was pretty much dominated by Welshman which will have afforded Gatland a knowing smile. Jamie Roberts and Mike Phillips looked different class as they bristled around the game line and did damage with every play. Phillips is a big Scrum Half with a lightning change of direction and should give the Aussies all sorts of problems. Alex Cuthbert sprinted down the line for two tries and even Wyn-Jones manage to be on the end of the line for a try.

The Lions continued to rack up the points in spite of a flurry of late substitutions but by then the Ba-Ba's looked done in. Eyes down on Wednesday for the first warm-up match on Aussie soil when Western Force provide the opposition in Perth. It's a match which should see the physicality increased as the Aussies try to soften us up and create some needle ahead of the first Test five matches later in Brisbane on Saturday 22nd June. My time on a Lions Tour will come, but for now I will have to make-do with television.

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