British & Irish Lions
The Lions are a rugby union test team comprising players from the home nations - England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Lions tours are conducted once every four years and in modern times have focused on Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The 2013 tour included a game against the Barbarians in Hong Kong and the Lions went on to win the series 2-1 over Australia. In 2017, almost 130 years since they played Otago in their first tour match, the British & Irish Lions return to New Zealand.
Bring on the Lions, says Hong Kong’s Barbarian Varty
Rowan Varty confident he’s ready for the challenge after overcoming his fears at Twickenham
"I was scared out of my skin but I proved I was no token player" was how Hong Kong winger Rowan Varty recounted his 18 minutes of fame in front of 60,000 fans at Twickenham as England's young guns crushed the Barbarians 40-12 on Sunday.
Varty, the first Hong Kong player ever to be picked by the Barbarians, came on as a replacement in the 62nd minute for right winger Timoci Nagusa and had a couple of good touches of the ball but could not do much to halt the England attack. On Saturday he will be on more familiar turf when the Barbarians take on the British and Irish Lions at Hong Kong Stadium.
"I feel more comfortable now having got the chance to run out at Twickenham," Varty said.
"I hope I can come on and enjoy myself a bit more than I did last time, as I was downright worried that I would make a mistake and embarrass myself in front of all those people.
"Sitting on the bench was one of the most nervous experiences for me. The subs had just had a warm-up and we had just come back when I was told I would have to go on. I was really edgy and I remember my first touch of the ball, when I stepped inside and got hit in the face.
"But overall I think I did well. Soon the guys were coming up to me and saying 'well done' for little things I did and that settled my nerves. I think they expected me to be a token selection and didn't think I was up to the task. But happily I seem to have passed the test."
The Barbarians' invitation to a Hong Kong player was always on the cards ever since the Lions game was announced two years ago. Varty's name was put forward by the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union who deemed it fit that a player who began his career from mini-rugby should represent the city.
"Now I can look forward to the game on Saturday. I certainly feel more comfortable now being part of the squad," Varty said.
He arrived yesterday afternoon with the Barbarians squad for the historic encounter - the first time both teams will meet outside Britain - and is praying that he will get the chance to play in front of his home crowd.
The Hong Kong sevens skipper is unlikely to start, with the Barbarians management calling up former All Blacks winger Joe Rokocoko and former Auckland Blues and current Ulster winger Jared Payne in an attempt to beef up the side which performed disappointingly against England.
Veteran South African hooker Schalk Brits and London Wasps and England Saxons full-back Elliot Daly salvaged some late pride with tries but it was a day the Baa-Baas will want to forget.
But for Varty, 27, it will be a day to remember for the rest of his life. "The intensity at which the game was played was much higher than what I'm used to. In Hong Kong we do play at this intensity for brief periods of play, but these guys sustain it throughout and it is the norm for them.
"And it was something playing in front of a crowd all cheering for the opposition. But all I was thinking about was not to make any bad blunders. I didn't look out of place and that was all I wanted."
The Barbarians had a light session soon after arrival to knead out the travel weariness.
The Lions will arrive today with the entire squad coming together for the first time after last weekend's championship games. Ireland's Rory Best has been added to the squad after England hooker Dylan Hartley was banned for 11 weeks.