Solid Start for Lions in Hong Kong

To say the Lions raised a sweat in their opening match of the 2013 tour would be an understatement. An impressive performance saw them cruise to a routine 59-8 victory in testing humid conditions. Alex Cuthbert and Mike Phillips scored two tries each as a disciplined Lions side brushed past a lacklustre Barbarians XV, scoring eight tries in the process.

The Lions showed early signs of the intensity needed to win a test match down under, as they laid in place foundations for a promising tour. In sweltering humidity levels of up to 94%, Gatland’s men found themselves 23-3 ahead at half time.

Trademark Owen Farrell penalties added to the scores of the experienced O’Connell and Phillips ensuring the scoreboard kept on ticking over. In the second half, the Lions’ superior fitness paid dividends Welshmen Jonathon Davies, Dan Lydiate and Alun Wyn-Jones all crossing to add to Cuthbert and Phillips’ brace.

Following their defeat to England last weekend, the barbarians remained relatively unsurprising throughout, bar a brilliant burst from former All Black Joe Rokocoko, who released replacement Kahn Fotuali’I for their solitary try.

Both sides exchanged initial penalties. Soon after captain for the day Paul O’Connell lumbered over from close range to record the Lions first try of this year’s tour. Gaps were appearing in the Barbarians’ defence which the outstanding Mike Phillips capitalised on. Phillips burst through to show his admirable strength in fending off challenges from both Rokocko and Parisse in a determined finish.

As the sweat dripped off the unfortunate hairstyles of Hibbard and Adam Jones, errors were common throughout in very much a stop-start rhythm to the game. Hong Kong was treated to both sides of young Farrell’s temperament, with competent kicking on one hand, frustration on the other. Saracens team mate Schalk Brits was sin binned for hitting out at Farrell, as the flustered fly half held him back during a ruck. Farrell’s hot-head tendency is surely something the wind up merchants of the Australian media will be out to play on.

The second half began in similar fashion as Phillips made easy work of a solo run in after a dummy and sprint finish off a lineout. After a poor pass from Farrell, the Barbarians hit back to make the score 30-8. But the life was soon drained out of them as Jonathan Davies seized upon an opportunistic rolling ball to extend the Lions’ lead. Alex Cuthbert demonstrated the exact reason as to why he is in line for the test team with a clinical finish once again. Performances from the likes of Hogg, Roberts and Tipuric won’t also go unnoticed.

Despite the unfamiliarity of some of the replacements, who had only just joined up with the squad following domestic finals, the Lions continued to roar to full time. Gatland’s focus on continuity was shown with like for like replacements; North on for Roberts and Murray on Phillips respectively. A confident break from North allowed Cuthbert to again show off his finishing ability, scoring to make it 47-8.

A rolling maul from a lineout resulted in a try for the rejuvenated Dan Lydiate. A determined Alan Wyn-Jones completed a pleasing result, crossing in the corner late on. With the ball comparable to a bar of soap, the players could have done with a towel to overcome this inevitable challenge. In different conditions the score line could well have been more.

After three weeks’ preparation for most involved today, a comfortable victory was characterised by the excellent lines of running from the backs and domination at the set plays by the forwards. Man of the Match Mike Phillips praised the Lions’ focus and said ‘I thought boys fronted up well in tough conditions. It’s a great way to start the tour and we can push on from here.’

On a prestigious occasion for all involved and not least for Asian rugby, the fact that 7 out of the 8 tires were scored by Welshmen shouldn’t be something for people to talk about; we are all Lions now, roll on Western Force on Wednesday.

Lions: Stuart Hogg, Alex Cuthbert, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts , Sean Maitland; Owen Farrell, Mike Phillips; Mako Vunipola, Richard Hibbard, Adam Jones, Richie Gray, Paul O’Connell (capt), Dan Lydiate, Justin Tipuric, Toby Faletau.

Replacements: Tom Youngs, Cian Healy, Matt Stevens, Alun Wyn Jones Jamie Heaslip, Conor Murray, Jonathan Sexton, George North

Barbarians: Jared Payne, Joe Rokocoko, Elliot Daly, Casey Laulala, Takudzwa Ngwenya, Nick Evans, Dimitri Yachvili; Paul James, Schalk Brits, Martin Castrogiovanni, Marco Wentzel, Dean Mumm, Samu Manoa, Sam Jones, Sergio Parisse (capt).

Replacements: Leonardo Ghiraldini, Duncan Jones, Andrea Lo Cicero, Jim Hamilton, Imanol Harinordoquy, Kahn Fotuali’l, James Hook, Mike Tindall.

Referee: Steve Walsh (ARU)

Attendance: 28,643

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