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British & Irish Lions
Lions throw caution to the wind
Tom Hamilton in Hong Kong
June 1, 2013
Jamie Roberts takes in the Hong Kong surroundings © PA Photos

"If it is to your advantage, make a forward move; if not, stay where you are" - The Art of War, Sun Tzu

When I came back to my hotel room on Friday afternoon after visiting Lawrence Dallaglio, one of the staff had very kindly left a bookmark next to my current choice of reading matter - Graham Henry's 2001 tour diary for those of you wondering - which was left open on my bedside table. The bookmark had inscribed on it the above quote.

After tonight's match against the Barbarians, it is a piece of philosophy which could be applied to the Lions. Only after the game in the Hong Kong Stadium will we know whether this match has been worthwhile and beneficial from a rugby point of view - should they have stayed put and continued training, or was it to their advantage?

For the local rugby fans, they have had limited opportunities to see top class rugby in the past. Their wonderfully unique, vibrant Sevens tournament in the last weekend of March is one of the top events in the rugby calendar but for the XV form of the game, the last two noticeable games to be played here were Bledisloe Cup encounters in 2008 and 2010.

But despite the reportedly poor ticket sales, the local media are doing their best to bang the drum for tonight's match.

In Saturday's South China Morning Post, Lions coverage makes up the bulk of the sport section. Alongside the standard previews and an interview with Peter Winterbottom and Mike Teague, both of whom have been spending the last couple of days teaching rugby to schoolchildren here in Hong Kong, is a piece on Rowan Varty, the local player who could be on the bench for the Barbarians.

Aside from the financial implication of the match - the hard-to-ignore link between the Lions' chief sponsors HSBC and the location of this game, the city in which they have their headquarters - lies an important sub-plot. For Hong Kong rugby, Varty's potential presence would be huge for the region.

"The build-up to the game has been dominated by the overbearing heat, talks of water breaks and the convenient corporate links"

The article in the newspaper says Varty is "representing the hopes and aspirations of a city which does not fall within the ambit of an established rugby nation. In our own way Hong Kong rugby has made waves and continues to do so. And at the forefront has been the hard-working Varty".

The build-up to the game has been dominated by the overbearing heat, talks of water breaks and the convenient corporate links. But it is still fifteen men playing against another fifteen, as Andy Farrell put it in Friday's press briefing.

For the local rugby scene, today's match could be a seminal moment in their growth and development. For the Lions, the game is unlikely to provide answers to any key questions relating to the forthcoming Test series against Australia. But it will be a significant occasion for those pulling on the red shirt for the first time, or looking to make amends for the numerous series losses, with centre Jamie Roberts emphasising this on Friday. It seems he has opted to attack, rather than staying put.

"We came so close in 2009. We have a chance to put it right on this tour and all the boys are desperate to recreate what the Lions did in 1997. I feel within the squad that the boys are ready to go."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.

Tom Hamilton was brought up near the stands of the Recreation Ground and joined ESPN in 2011. He is now Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.
Follow him on Twitter @tomESPNscrum