Preview: Barbarians v B&I Lions
Preview: Barbarians v B&I LionsSHARE
The British and Irish Lions will look to set the tone for their three-Test tour of Australia by registering a convincing win against the Barbarians in sweltering Hong Kong on Saturday.
The Lions, playing in Asia for the first time in their 125-year history, have handed responsibility for the curtain-raiser to 17 debutants in the match-day squad, with captain Sam Warburton among three players out injured.
But the line-up, picked mainly from those not in club action last week, also gives fringe players a chance to stake a claim for the Australia Tests by impressing against a Barbarians team brimming with international talent.
Veteran Irish lock Paul O'Connell leads the Lions after unlucky tour skipper Warburton was sidelined with a knee ligament injury – although that may yet prove a good omen.
Lions captain Martin Johnson missed the first two matches in South Africa in 1997, but he went on to lead the combined English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish side to a Test series victory, an achievement not repeated since.
Unfortunately for flank Warburton, whereas second row giant Johnson had no rivals for his place in the Test side, this Lions squad is overflowing with back row talent.
Justin Tipuric, another Welsh flank, will wear Warburton's number seven shirt and aim to put down an early marker for Test selection after a season in which he was regarded as having regularly outshone his national captain.
It could all leave head coach Warren Gatland with a selection headache when Warburton returns to fitness, probably after the next two matches against Super Rugby sides Western Force on Wednesday and Queensland Reds on Saturday.
Nine Welshmen have been selected in the inexperienced side, with 11 new Lions caps among the 15 who will start at Hong Kong Stadium in expected heat of 30 degrees Celsius and 80 percent humidity, despite the 19.30 (11.30 GMT) kick-off.
The back row, even without Warburton, remains fully Welsh, with Tipuric and Dan Lydiate joined by fellow Lions debutant Toby Faletau at No.8.
The Barbarians, for their part, are still smarting from a 40-12 hammering by England last Sunday and are so determined to put up a better show that they have broken with a long-held tradition and attempted to ban alcohol.
They even eschewed a sponsor's offer of free beer during a "meet the fans" evening at an Irish pub this week, according to manager Derek Quinnell.
"I think they [the brewery] were under the under the impression that a few pints would be sunk, but about 90 percent of the squad were on diet drinks," Quinnell told reporters.
What the other 10 percent were drinking he did not reveal, although some at least switched to wine after players tweeted pictures of themselves with glasses of red and white at Happy Valley racecourse on Wednesday.
That said, with no-nonsense Sergio Parisse, probably the best No.8 in the world, taking the armband, the BaaBaas look to have transplanted a backbone into the spineless side that surrendered so meekly at Twickenham.
The Italian skipper has a powerhouse front row ahead of him with countryman Martin Castrogiovanni, Springbok hooker Shalk Brits and Welshman Paul James manning the engine room.
Add mercurial French scrumhalf Dimitri Yachvili and All Black flyhalf Nick Evans, and explosive New Zealand wing Joe Rokocoko, and it seems the Lions will face a rigorous workout before the trip to Australia.
The 37-man Lions squad fly out late on Sunday. They will play tour games in Perth, Brisbane, Newcastle, Sydney and Canberra before the first Test on June 22.
Players to watch:
For the Barbarians: Amongst the backs the scrumhalf and flyhalf combination are going to be great to watch and if they click they can cause a lot of problems for the Lions because with Yachvili's pin-point tactical kicking as well as solid decision-making coupled with the flair and attacking prowess of Evans they will be able to harras defences. The pace of Takudzwa Ngwenya could wreck havoc amongst the Lions back. The class of Sergio Parisse is another factor to worry about along with the quick feet and slick skills of Schalk Britz.
For the Lions: The Welsh influence in the backline will be exciting to watch with some massive men in the midfield as well as Alex Cuthbert outwide. With his size and pace Ngwenya will have his hands full. The physically imposing Mike Phillips will want to stamp his authority on that No.9 jersey with a commanding performance against Yachvilli. Owen Farrell also needs to prove that he wants to be the No.1 flyhalf in the Lions squad.
Head to head: The scrumhalf battle will be interesting to note with both of them playing their rugby in France so they would have seen a lot of each other this season and that match-up could prove to be very interesting. The all Welsh back row will want to get one over the Barbarians back row in order to get their side on the front foot. Up front the contest between the hookers will also be one to watch out for as Hibbard will be hoping to keep Tom Youngs out of the side come the first test.
1977: British and Irish Lions won 23-14, Twickenham
Prediction: Although it seems that the Barbarians have tried to change up the image of the side after they got a hiding from England last weekend they remain a side that will forever be known as a care-free use the ball type of side. The Lions are looking to set up structures that will help them win Test matches and that means that they will look to work off the mistakes of the Barbarians. With this in mind it should mean that the Lions will win the game but it will not be the same margin as last week. They will win by between 10 and 15 points.
Barbarians: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Joe Rokocoko, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Casey Laulala, 11 Takudzwa Ngwenya, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Dimitri Yachvili, 8 Sergio Parisse (captain), 7 Sam Jones, 6 Samu Manoa, 5 Dean Mumm, 4 Marco Wentzel, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Paul James.
Replacements: 16 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 17 Duncan Jones, 18 Andrea Lo Cicero, 19 Jim Hamilton, 20 Imanol Harinordoquy, 21 Kahn Fotuali'i, 22 James Hook, 23 Mike Tindall/Rowan Varty.
British and Irish Lions: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Paul O'Connell (captain), 4 Richie Gray, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Tom Youngs, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Matt Stevens, 19 Alun Wyn Jones, 20 Jamie Heaslip, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Johnny Sexton, 23 George North.
Date: Saturday, June 1
Venue: Hong Kong Stadium, Hong Kong
Kick-off: 19.30 (12.30 UK & Ireland time; 11.30 GMT)
Expected weather: Hot and humid. High of 32°C and low of 25°C
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant referees: Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa), Angus Gardner (Australia)
TMO: Matt Goddard (Australia)
AFP & rugby365