- An Extremely Strong Lions Squad
Ahead of 3 tests and 6 provincial games in Australia this summer, the British & Irish Lions tour begins against the Barbarians in Hong Kong this weekend. With Warren Gatland naming 17 tour debutants for the first game, some commentators have suggested that the Lions squad this weekend has been “hastily put-together” with “fringe players”. But looking through the squad, it seems to include an abundance of talent and experience.
Granted players such as Brian O’Driscoll, Leigh Halpenny, Manu Tuilagi, Sam Warburton and Tom Croft are missing and will expect to feature in the test squad. But so too will the likes of Alex Cuthbert, Jamie Roberts, Adam Jones, Richard Hibbard, Alun Wyn Jones, Cian Healy and Johnny Sexton whilst Stuart Hogg, Owen Farrell, Mike Phillips, Conor Murray, Justin Tipuric, Dan Lydiate, Paul O’Connell, Jamie Heaslip and George North will be there or there abouts. All-in-all, a top-quality Lions squad.
The full selection is:
Team: 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, 4. Richie Gray, 3. Adam Jones, 2. Richard Hibbard, 1. Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16. Tom Youngs, 17. Cian Healy, 18. Matt Stevens, 19. Alun Wyn Jones, 20. Jamie Heaslip, 21. Conor Murray, 22. Johnny Sexton, 23. George North.
- Better Lions Bench, With Both Likely To Feature
Despite a late kick-off (local time), conditions in Hong Kong look less than ideal for rugby with expected temperatures & humidity of c. 30 degrees Celsius & 80%+ respectively.
Despite talk of 12 large water fans pitchside, special pre-hydration packs, water stoppages during the game and “ice jackets” afterwards, it’s difficult to see anything other than a full rotation of players being needed. And with the Lions bench having, by far, the better quality of the two (particularly in the backs), as well as test places to impress for when introduced, I expect the Lions replacements to make a bigger impact on the game. And the scoreline.
The two benches named are:
Barbarians: Ghiraldini, Jones, Hamilton, Harinordoquy, Lo Cicero, Fotuali’i, Hook, Tindall / Varty.
Lions: Tom Youngs, Healy, Stevens, Alun Wyn Jones, Heaslip, Murray, Sexton & North.
- Talented Baa-Baas On Show
The Barbarians may not have the strength-in-depth of the Lions but they have travelled with a core of exceptional rugby players. Captained by the ever-impressive Sergio Parisse of Italy, players like Dimitri Yachvili, Taku Ngwenya, Joe Rokocoko, Nick Evans, Martin Castrogiovanni and Schalk Brits are all experienced and capable of winning games. And others like up-and-coming Elliot Daly may prove themselves very dangerous if under-estimated by the Lions.
The Barbarians line-up for tomorrow is:
Team: 15. Jared Payne, 14. Joe Rokocoko, 13. Elliot Daly, 12. Casey Laulala, 11. Taku 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. Leonardo Ghiraldini, 17. Duncan Jones, 18. Jim Hamilton, 19. Imanol Harinordoquy, 20. Andrea Lo Cicero, 21. Kahn Fotuali’i, 22. James Hook, 23. Mike Tindall / Rowan Varty.