LIONS V BARBARIANS PREVIEW

Well, 2013 British and Irish Lions tour starts tomorrow, with the first match against the Barbarians taking place tomorrow, in Hong Kong (KO 12.30), and Warren Gatland has picked a very strong team.
 
British and Irish 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 (c), 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.
 
With most of the players who played in last weekends Rabo and Aviva finals been ruled out of contention (to give them a rest), the team is predominantly Welsh in nature, with 9 players from that country selected.
 
They will be joined by 3 Scots, 2 English and 1 Irishman, Paul O’Connell. With squad captain Sam Warburton currently injured, O’Connell will lead the side out tomorrow. O’Connell has plenty of experience captaining the Lions as he was tour captain for the 2009 tour against South Africa.
 
All the players will be looking to put in a good performance, with particular attention focused on Owen Farrell at out-half. Farrell’s form hasn’t been great recently and he’ll want to have a great game, for his own sake and to give selector’s thought.
 
Stuart Hogg and Sean Maitland will be wanting to show their value early on, with neither player been seen as a front-runner for a test spot. Both are exciting runners. The other backs will want to stake an early claim for the tests, especially Phillips at scrum-half.
 
Richie Gray will want to have a great game, as Paul O’Connell’s second row partner. As O’Connell is a likely test starter, Gray will want to show he can work well with him. Likewise for Richard Hibbard at hooker, with his line-out throwing a crucial factor.
 
The subs bench is very strong, with Healy, Heaslip and Sexton having helped Leinster win the
double Rabo and Amlin titles. Also Tom Youngs who won the Aviva Premiership with Leicester. Alun Wyn Jones is a strong test contender, as is George North.  
 
It’s a strong team overall, the big question is whether they can gel together? That’s usually the Lions main disadvantages when playing opposition team, the fact that they’re a scratch side who haven’t played together before. Luckily their opponents in this game have the same problem.
 
The Barbarians are also a scratch sides, with players coming together from all over the world. They were thumped by England last Saturday, losing 40-12. A stronger team has been picked for the Lions game, though, with, Italian captian Sergio Parrisie chosen to lead the side.
 
Parrissie is one of the best number 8’s in the world. He’s backed up by star players, including Rokocoko, Laulau, Evans, Yachvilli and Castrogiovanni. Also strong subs, like Harinorduqouy, Hook (who toured with the Lions in 2009) and Tindall.  
 

Barbarians: 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.

It’s a difficult game to call, with both sides likely to suffer from the conditions (extreme humidity,especially). The Lions have got more to prove, though, needing to get the tour off to a good start. I’ll think the Lions will do it, though the match will be pretty scrappy and disjointed.

This is only the second time that the Lions have played the Barbarians. The previous game took place in September of 1977, to celebrate the Queen’s Silve Jubilee, and the Lions won 23-14.

The Barbarians were a strong side that year, with several of the stars of the day, including JPR Williams, Gerald Davies and Gareth Edwards. The Lions were captained by Phil Bennett, who had captained the side on a tour to New Zealand earlier in the year, which they lost 3-1.

There is another match on tomorrow which will be of interest to Lions fans, as Toulon take on Castres in the final of the French Top 14 competion. Toulon are the reigning Heineken champions, and are captained by Jonny Wilkinson.

Toulon have a chance to achieve an historic double, they could become the only French team to have won the Heineken and Top14 competitions. If Wilkinson has a great game, and remains injury-free, he should get a call-up to the Lions.   

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