British & Irish Lions
Five things we learned...from the Barbarians clash
June 2, 2013
Lions fly-half Owen Farrell applauds the sin-binning of Barbarians hooker Schalk Brits during their clash in Hong Kong © Getty Images
The British & Irish Lions tour finally got underway in Hong Kong on Saturday night with Warren Gatland's side notching an impressive 59-8 victory in difficult conditions.
What did that game tell us? And what else did we learn this weekend that could impact on the Lions' chances of claiming a series victory over Australia?
Farrell's fuse is alarmingly short
Owen Farrell's temperament has commanded countless column inches in recent months with his fondness for confrontation seen as potential weakness by some - including Sir Clive Woodward - and a positive by others - such as former England and Lions lock Ben Kay. That debate was reignited with his altercation with Barbarians hooker and his Saracens team-mate Schalk Brits after just seven minutes of the game. Brits may have been the more serious offender
Wilko really wants a call from Warren Gatland
As the dust settled on his epic domestic campaign that ended on a low note with defeat to Castres in the Top 14 title-decider, Toulon fly-half Jonny Wilkinson gave his clearest indication yet that he wants part of this Lions tour. You may remember that the former England playmaker turned down the chance to return to Australia with the Lions, having toured there in 2001, due to the clash between the Lions' opener in Hong Kong and the finale to the French domestic season. With Toulon's season now over, he immediately set his sights on a return to Lions colours - "If Warren wants to call me about joining up with the Lions, I will happily have that conversation with him," he said on Saturday night. Gatland has stressed Wilkinson may get a call - but only if injuries force his hand. Given the gruelling and intense nature of modern Lions tours, and the fact that Jonathan Sexton and Owen Farrell are set to see action in every game as the only two recognised No.10s in the squad, Wilkinson may want to start sorting out his visa.
Welsh dragons breathing fire
We've always known there is something special about the Lions shirt - Sky Sports have produced endless promos reminding us of the fact - but a more emphatic endorsement was delivered in Hong Kong. The mercury may have been boiling and oxygen may have been precious due to the 90% humidity but the Welsh duo of scrum-half Mike Phillips and centre Jamie Roberts produced lung-busting displays - the like of which we have not seen since they last pulled on the world famous red jersey four years ago in South Africa. Tries, linebreaks and busted tackles galore - the donning of a kit has not had such a devastating effect since Tony Stark slipped into his latest Iron Man creation. They were not the only Welshmen to shine with flanker Justin Tipuric another to impress throughout and his industry and execution is more than enough to ease the fears that Lions skipper and rival flanker Sam Warburton's injury may be worse than first thought.
Hong Kong Phooey
It is a miracle that the Lions were able to report a clean bill of health in the wake of their opening victory over the Barbarians given the heat and humidity they had to contend with throughout the game. Lions management may well have rubbished reports suggesting the fixture was staged there to appease title sponsors HSBC - a multinational bank with its roots in the region - but there can be little doubt it was a factor. Even the team's medics have spoken of the benefit of playing in such conditions - "What better way to prepare than by playing in a sauna?" declared team doctor James Robson but don't be fooled. "We probably didn't realise quite what it meant in terms of conditions and heat and that is a lesson learnt," a Lions spokesperson said on the eve of the game - a bizarre statement given the time spent on logistics and planning ahead of these tours. They may like to know that it is winter in Buenos Aires at this time of year with average temperatures of just 15 degrees - but the Pumas would be sure to offer a hot reception.
Quade remains a quandary
Australia coach Robbie Deans was treated to the best and the worst of Wallabies wannabe Quade Cooper on Saturday night when he went head-to-head with rival fly-half James O'Connor. The Reds' playmaker gift-wrapped two charge down tries for the Melbourne Rebels during their Super Rugby clash in Brisbane before playing a key role in their revival with a drop goal, crucial penalty and priceless second half try. As impressive his recovery, it is unlikely to prompt a re-think from Deans who left Cooper out of his initial squad to face the Lions with O'Connor and the Brumbies' Christian Lea'ifano set to compete for the No.10 jersey. There are still six spots in the squad to be filled but there is no guarantee Cooper will claim one of them and be given the chance to press his claims further. But it is not just Cooper's fluctuating form counting against him. The part-time boxer is arguably still paying for his very public outburst last year when he labelled the Wallabies' environment as "toxic" and questioned their approach. Cooper has one more chance to prove his worth to Deans when the Reds tackle the Lions next weekend ahead of the Wallabies squad confirmation on June 11.
The Lions' Alun Wyn Jones sets about rehydrating himself following his side's clash in Hong Kong © PA Photos
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
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