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Lions to make history

Tue, 28 May 2013 09:44
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The British and Irish Lions touched down on Asian soil for the first time in their 125-year history as they prepare to take on the Barbarains in Hong Kong this weekend.

The 37-man squad, which combines the cream of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, were given a warm welcome as they arrived at Hong Kong's Chek Lap Kok airport wearing red Lions T-shirts.

Captain Sam Warburton and Scotland fullback Stuart Hogg posed with local schoolchildren who displayed a banner in Chinese saying "Welcome British and Irish Lions to Hong Kong" alongside the Lions mascot, Billy.

This game will be the first of their warm-up games leading into a three-Test series with Australia beginning in Brisbane on June 22. The second Test is in Melbourne a week later, and the series wraps up in Sydney on July 6.

After their fixture with the Barbarians, who lost 40-12 to a young England side at Twickenham on Sunday, the Lions make the trip to the West coast of Australia where they face Super Rugby franchise the Western Force in the first of their five warm-up games on Austrailian mainland on Wednesday.

The Lions' first ever game in Asia adds to rugby's steadily growing presence in the region, including Bledisloe Cup games between Australia and New Zealand in Hong Kong and Japan's hosting of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Saturday's match is a warm-up for the Lions' tour of Australia, when they will try to end a three-series losing streak since defeating South Africa in 1997.

Their last visit to Australia in 2001 saw them edged out 2-1 in the gripping final installment of a brutal series against John Eales's Wallabies.

Subsequently the Lions have suffered a thumping 3-0 loss to New Zealand in 2005 and a 2-1 reverse against South Africa in 2009.

Coach Warren Gatland has selected 15 Welshmen in his squad, Wales's largest Lions representation in 36 years.

Ireland contribute 10 Lions since the inclusion of hooker Rory Best as a late replacement for the suspended Englishman Dylan Hartley. The England contingent now numbers nine and there are three from Scotland.

AFP

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