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The British And Irish Lions Hold Last Training Session Before Barbarians Clash

posted 31 May 2013, 04:13 by Mpelembe   [ updated 31 May 2013, 04:13 ]

The British and Irish Lions have last training session before their historic clash with an international Barbarians side in sweltering Hong Kong conditions.

HONG KONG, CHINA (MAY 31, 2013)(REUTERS) - After six months' planning and three weeks' training, coach Warren Gatland finally begins his British and Irish Lions adventure in earnest on Saturday (June 1) with what should be a gentle opening match against the Barbarians to open the 125th anniversary tour.

Ahead of three tests and six provincial games in Australia, the Lions are making their first appearance in Hong Kong, where the city's intense heat and humidity will play a key factor.

Gatland, whose selection options were severely limited by the late arrival of more than a dozen players involved in domestic cup finals last weekend, will be anxious to see how the new combinations gel but is more concerned about getting the tour off to a successful start.

That should not be a problem, despite the Lions' limited preparation time, particularly if the Barbarians offer as little resistance as they did in last Sunday's 40-12 defeat by a fledgling England selection at Twickenham and assistant coachAndy Farrell said he was impressed with team's progress. .

"Yeah it's been fantastic so far. Everyone's learning. I think the biggest stand-out thing for me would be the ability to, how quick they adapt. The work ethic. They want to try and sort problems out straight away. They want to self please, home work etc. and the speed of what they do things and the speed of how they learn has been fantastic to watch," said Farrell after the Lions last training session ahead of the match.

Only four starters remain, however, from that team and, with Italian Sergio Parissecaptaining a far stronger-looking side from number eight, the Lions will have to work hard for their points and concentrate on their newly-learned defensive patterns.

An indication of how seriously the Barbarians are taking the game is the news that the players have agreed to an alcohol ban until after the match.

In an unprecedented move, there will be two water breaks during each half and pitch-side fans, as temperatures are expected to hit 33 degrees Celsius, with relative humidity in the 65-90 percent range on Saturday, according to the Hong Kong observatory.

"It's good for the boys to do something different. Get out in the sun and get used to the humidity and sweat a bit. Sweat the flight out of themselves and etc. And they've all adapted fantastically well, trained very intensely and they're all itching for a game," said Farrell.

Lions centre, Jamie Roberts, said the water breaks and fans blasting out cool air onto the pitch was vital for the player's health and for the integrity of the match.

"Yeah it is a bit bizarre. But first and foremost, the safety of the players in paramount. Eventually the boys need to get water on board, so I think it's a good idea just to make sure that the quality of rugby is up there. I'm sure if you played 80 minutes in this without water breaks and come the last 10, 20 minutes, the quality of rugby would drop off quite significantly. So those water breaks will ensure the game is the spectacle it deserves to be," said Roberts.

He also said he wasn't worried about the 17 new Lions 'freezing' during the match, as everyone knew their role.

"Certainly for those boys tomorrow playing for the first time, it's just to go out there and enjoy the occasion. It's massive event. It's, as I've said in previous interviews, it's probably two of the most prestigious invitational teams, certainly in Northern hemisphere rugby if not world rugby, going head to head in Hong Kong. You couldn't ask for a better first match on this tour," said Roberts.

New Zealand born Sean Maitland, the Glasgow Warriors flier who only arrived in the UK just before Christmas, said he still couldn't believe he was playing for the Lions.

Despites spending all his life in New Zealand, he qualifies for Scotland, and hence the Lions, through his Glaswegian grandparents who emigrated in the 1960s.

"Yeah I get that question asked a lot. It's been a crazy six months. Yeah, and obviously, when I go back to Australia and I play against players who I've played against before. And it's crazy. It's been a roller-coaster ride and yeah, I do got to pinch myself sometimes. But soon it will be tomorrow night when I put on that Lions jersey it will be a moment to savour," said Maitland, saying his grandparents had always reminded him of his ancestry.

In the absence of captain Sam Warburton, who is nursing a knee injury, Irish lockPaul O'Connell, captain in South Africa four years ago, will again lead the Lions.

Three of Warburton's Welsh compatriots will fill the back row, with another six players from the Six Nations champions in the starting XV.

Owen Farrell will start at flyhalf, outside Mike Phillips, one of the stand-out performers of the 2009 tour.

All three Scots in the touring party get an early opportunity to impress, with Stuart Hogg at fullback, Sean Maitland on the left wing and Richie Gray in the second row.

Teams: 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 Healey, 18-Matt Stevens, 19-Alun Wyn-Jones, 20-Jamie Heaslip, 21-Conor Murray, 22-Jonny Sexton, 23-George North.

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, 7-Sam Jones, 6-Samu Manoa, 5-Dean Mumm, 4-Marco Wentzel, 3-Martin Castrogiovanni, 2-Schalk Brits, 1-Paul James.

Replacements: 16-Duncan Jones, 17-Leonardo Ghiraldini, 18-Jim Hamilton, 19-Imanol Harinordoquy, 20-Andrea Lo Cicero, 21-Kahn Fotuali'i, 22-James Hook, 23-Mike Tindall.

Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)