After putting the hot and humid business of an appointment with the Barbarians behind them, the British and Irish Lions will kick off nine games Down Under against Western Force in Perth on Wednesday.
Their target is a Test series victory over the Wallabies, which the Lions last achieved in 1989. They have not enjoyed a series triumph against any opponent for 16 years. “The Australian sides will be more organised and more structured,” said Lions and Wales prop Adam Jones. “I expect Western Force to be strong. It’s a massive thing to play the Lions, a huge deal for them. They won’t shy away from the challenge, which is what you would expect.”
While the Barbarians game took its toll in terms of unrelenting stamina-sapping conditions, the Lions reported no fresh injury concerns as they packed their bags for an eight-hour flight. Their 59-8 success, scoring eight tries, was in stark contrast to the South Africa tour opener of four years ago when the Lions struggled against a scratch Royal XV in Rustenburg before prevailing 37-25.
“Four years ago, we were disappointing in the first game, but we played well [against the Barbarians]. We knew what we had to do to wear them down,” said prop Adam Jones added. “You could see them beginning to struggle around the fringes, and we knew we could pull away. When we scored a couple of tries in the second-half, that happened. We messed up a few calls in the lineout, but we are still getting used to them. It was a good game, if a bit warm! A lot of us haven’t played for a good few weeks. For Richie Gray to get through 80 minutes having not played since the Six Nations spoke volumes.”
The game saw two water breaks in each half, but a temperature of around 30 degrees and stifling humidity made life virtually intolerable for both teams.
Asked if the Hong Kong conditions were the toughest he has experienced, Jones said: “Comfortably. It was like there was no air. I felt quite good up until about seven minutes into the second-half, and then we had two scrums and it was tough after that. It’s difficult to explain. It felt like high altitude because it was so hard to get your breath.
“Justin Tipuric [Lions flanker] is one of the fittest players I know, so if he found it hard then you know it was.”
Lions head coach Warren Gatland will unveil his team to face Western Force this morning, with first tour starts anticipated for the likes of Brian O’Driscoll, Manu Tuilagi, Leigh Halfpenny, Tom Croft and Jamie Heaslip. Of their opener in Hong Kong, the coach noted: “It was a good run-out and exactly what we wanted. It was tougher than the score suggested and it was all about putting a foundation in place.”
Outstanding scrum-half Mike Phillips and winger Alex Cuthbert led the rout with two tries each. Skipper Paul O’Connell, Jonathan Davies, Alun-Wyn Jones and Dan Lydiate also crossed as the Lions built on a 23-3 half-time lead.
“This game will stand us in good stead further down the road,” said O’Connell. “It was incredibly difficult conditions to play in. Probably the most difficult I have played in for it was just so hard to recover.
“Considering how hard it was out there, we’re delighted to get the win, and win really well. We wore them down in the first half and the tries came fairly easily in the second half. This win will give us a platform to work on.”
Fly-half Owen Farrell, who was involved in an early bust-up with Barbarians hooker Schalk Brits, was in superb kicking form to total 15 points before handing over the duties in the second half to allow Jonathan Sexton to knock over two conversions.
Scorers: Barbarians: Try: Fotuali’i. Pen: Daly. Lions: Tries: O’Connell, Phillips 2, Davies, Cuthbert 2, Lydiate, AW Jones. Cons: Farrell 3, Sexton 2. Pens: Farrell 3.
Barbarians: J Payne; J Rokocoko, E Daly, C Laulala (J Hook 68), T Ngwenya (M Tindall 59); N Evans, D Yachvili (K Fotuali’i 52); P James (D Jones 57), S Brits (L Ghiraldini 44), M Castrogiovanni (A Lo Cicero 68), M Wentzel (J Hamilton 59), D Mumm (I Harinordoquy 52), S Manoa, S Jones, S Parisse.
British and Irish Lions: S Hogg; A Cuthbert, J Davies, J Roberts (G North 63), S Maitland; O Farrell (J Sexton 57), M Phillips (C Murray 57); M Vunipola (C Healy 54), R Hibbard (T Youngs 52), A Jones (M Stevens 54), R Gray, P O’Connell (A W Jones 62), D Lydiate, J Tipuric, T Faletau (J Heaslip 62).