The British and Irish Lions will arrive in Australia today with no new injury problems after emerging largely unscathed from their Hong Kong Stadium “sauna” experience.
A temperature of 30 degrees and stifling humidity meant that the conditions could hardly have been tougher for the tour opener against an outclassed Barbarians side which saw the Lions run out convincing 59-8 winners.
Meanwhile the Lion’s Owen Farrell insists there are “no dramas” between him and his Saracens colleague Schalk Brits following their bust-up.
Brits will now serve a three-week ban at the start of next season following his citing for striking Farrell during Sunday’s clash. Referee Steve Walsh initially penalised Farrell for reacting to Brits’ indiscretion, but he reversed the decision – and yellow-carded Brits – on viewing big-screen television replays.
Baa-Baas hooker Brits promptly appeared at an International Rugby Board disciplinary hearing yesterday, where judicial officer Steve Lewis imposed the sanction.
Reflecting on the first-half incident, stand-off Farrell said: “Things happen in rugby. I was trying to hold him into a ruck, and he reacted to that. When someone reacts to you, you try not to take a backward step, not just on this occasion but on every occasion. I just grabbed him. There was nothing nasty in it.
“It is a reminder of how vital it is to keep cool and not to respond to provocation. These are big games, every game for the Lions is, and to lose someone to the bin would be massive. You can’t afford to do that – everyone has to be disciplined.
“I shook Schalk’s hand after the game, and he apologised when he came back on to the field.”
Farrell kicked 15 points in the Lions’ triumph, but he admitted the hot and humid conditions had a major effect on proceedings.
“It was tough to handle the ball out there,” he added. “It felt fine during the warm-up when everything was dry, but as soon as your shirt got wet and peoples’ hands were wet passing the ball, which was soaking, you might have been playing in torrential rain as far as the ball was concerned. I have never played in humidity like that. It was tough, but it wasn’t unbearable.
“I know that you are going to have to get your recovery right now. Some people will have to back up for the next game, so that’s important.” Indeed, due to the difficult conditions, the game was stopped twice in each half by referee Steve Walsh for water breaks, with Ireland lock Paul O’Connell and prop Adam Jones among those who described the conditions as the most demanding that they had ever experienced.
Handling was at times an occupational hazard, given the wet ball, but the Lions still ended up scoring eight tries, including two each for Wales pair Mike Phillips and Alex Cuthbert.
The Lions’ Scottish doctor James Robson estimated a possible weight-loss average of two kilograms per player, something which he feels may prove to be of benefit later in the tour.
“The guys are getting good at refuelling, and we have had quite a bit of practice this week as well because we have trained in some quite harsh conditions,” he said.
“The guys came off absolutely soaked, but you have got to remember that they were taking advantage of the water breaks, not only to consume water, but also to pour it all over themselves.
“We know that if you stress individuals at certain points, you do get a benefit.
“You get a benefit in the change of your natural blood volume, you get a benefit in your ability to cope with stresses – both physical and mental – and we would hope that this week has done that.
“I hope we will complete the tour with everybody intact. That is always my hope. Unfortunately, because of the kind of injury rates we see just now, we may lose two or three people. If we are unlucky, we may lose even more than that.
“All I can say is that we are going to arrive in Australia with the squad intact.
“There has been no holding back, despite the guys having the biggest prize of all to play for, to play for the Lions in Australia. There has been no quarter asked and no quarter given. I have been immensely impressed with the work ethic of the squad.”
That next fixture – against Western Force in Perth on Wednesday – could also see tour captain Sam Warburton make his first playing contribution on the 10-match trip.
Wales flanker Warburton missed the Baa-Baas encounter as a precaution whilst resting a knee injury, with O’Connell having taken over as skipper. for the day
“Sam is doing really well, and indeed, he could even have played in last night’s game,” explained Jones..
“The trouble was that he has had a previous injury to his leg there, so for anyone carrying, or having had previous injuries, we are always ultra-cautious. He has not got a privileged position because he is captain. We would have made that decision on anybody in that position.
“Last week, he just got a knock in training which seemed relatively innocuous. However, with the flight [from London to Hong Kong] and stiffening up a little, he just felt his knee a little. We pulled him out of training and advised Warren [Lions head coach Gatland] that we would rather give him a few days extra to recover.
“My colleague Eanna Falvey thought it would be beneficial just to put a tiny bit of steroid around the area because that can help with the discomfort, and Sam has had enormous benefit from that.
“Given that he didn’t play last night, he should now be available for the next game.”
The only other slight injuries reported were to O’Connell and hooker Tom Youngs who both required stitches for cuts while Flanker Sean O’Brien (bone bruising) and prop Gethin Jenkins (calf muscle) were scheduled to be back in normal training yesterday with full-back Rob Kearney also said to be progressing.
“Rob is running today and has been progressing nicely. He had a niggle allegedly in his hamstring, but it may have been a bit of referred pain from his back,” Robson added. “He is with the physios today, hopefully with the view to releasing him back to team duties tomorrow.”