Lions ask for water breaks to beat Hong Kong heat
Lions, who don't want to take any chances en route to Australia, will make sure they are hydrated in tonight's clash against the Barbarians
A ball has yet to be kicked but the British and Irish Lions are already breathless, falling victim to hot and humid Hong Kong. In an extraordinary move, they want water breaks in their opening game on the 2013 tour of Australia against the Barbarians today.
And not one, but two water breaks in each half, underlining how focused they are on the health of players before the tour gets serious in Perth next week with the Lions bidding to break a 16-year winless series drought.
With today forecast to be the hottest day this year - temperatures reaching 33 degrees Celsius and humidity touching 90 per cent - the Lions have done a U-turn after saying on Wednesday they wanted to test themselves under stressful conditions.
"It will be good for us to be under this heat stress in training as well as during the game," assistant coach Rob Howley said. "As far as we are concerned, the more pressure we are under the better in the lead-up to Australia."
But fears that half the side might have to be carried off the pitch and on to the flight leaving for Perth tomorrow have resulted in the Lions management taking a more prudent approach.
"I can't remember a Lions game in recent years, which has had water breaks. Maybe in the old days they might have had it, but certainly not in the last 25 years," said bemused English TV pundit Stuart Barnes, reacting to the time-out announcement at yesterday's eve-of-the-match media briefing.
While the usual cool towels and ice packs will be dished around at half-time, the water breaks speak volumes for the concerns over player welfare brought on by significant weight loss during training.
"When we first trained the humidity was 85 per cent and the boys lost three to four kilos. The next day, with fans pitch side and the guys rehydrating more, they only lost a kilo," Farrell said.
The former dual-code international hoped the stop-start nature of the game would not spoil the action.
"We have been training now for three weeks, but this is our first opportunity to play 15 versus 15, and it will be a good opportunity to test ourselves. We can learn more from playing in a game than in training and everyone is looking forward to it," said Farrell, whose son Owen is at flyhalf.
While much has been made of playing in the opening game of the tour, and thus being able to lay down an early marker for a test place, it might be a blessing in disguise for those players not selected, including injured captain Sam Warburton. Instead, the responsibility of guiding the Lions will fall on the broad shoulders of Ireland lock Paul O'Connell.
"We want an intense game even if the scoreline is a comfortable one," Farrell said. "But I don't think it will be easy. The Barbarians are by no means a makeshift team and have made a number of changes to the side, which lost last weekend against England. Their backs look dangerous and they will all want to prove what they can do.
"But our attitude will be to go out and keep the foot on the gas and be as ruthless as possible," said O'Connell. Seventeen players in the 23-man squad will be making their debuts. The opening-game squad are packed with Welshmen (11) including an all-Wales backrow of Dan Lydiate, Justin Tipuric and Toby Faletau.
The Barbarians will be led by outstanding Italian No8 Sergio Parisse, who was missing at Twickenham. "With the Barbarians you really don't know what to expect," said former All Blacks winger Joe Rokocoko, who has been drafted in to beef up the Barbarians team.
Rokocoko will have a head start over his opposite numbers having played in both Bledisloe Cup games at Hong Kong Stadium in 2008 and 2010, and also having started his career here when he turned out for the New Zealand sevens team at the Hong Kong Sevens in 2002.
And if it is not hot enough, Rokocoko and the rest of the Barbarians might just be able to turn the heat on the Lions tonight.