Lions too hot to handle for Barbarians in Hong Kong
Gatland's team put foundations in place, with Baa-Baas coach Young and captain Parisse predicting they will win in Australia
The British & Irish Lions were feelin' hot, hot, hot after they hammered the Barbarians 59-8 in an opening performance at Hong Kong Stadium last night, which is certain to sound the alarm bells in Australia.
A match that began with a show of 60 drummers and snaking dragon dancers ended with the Lions beating the tom-toms loud and clear. The message is they have the firepower - both in winning possession and retaining it through their giant forwards as well as the skills in the backs to attack from anywhere - to win their first series in 16 years.
"I'm very pleased with what I saw tonight," said Lions head coach Warren Gatland. "It was tougher than the scoreline suggested, but it was a good run out and exactly what I wanted."
Asked if the Hong Kong outing would raise eyebrows in Australia, Gatland said: "I don't really care. Today's performance wasn't about Australia, it was about us putting foundations in place. We'll start concentrating on watching them a bit more closely now that we've got this game under our belt."
The eight-try rout was even more impressive considering the conditions were brutal with both captains, Paul O'Connell of the Lions and the Barbarians' Sergio Parisse, describing it as the "toughest they had ever played in".
This was a warm-up game in every aspect. The sizzling hot nature was even manifested by early events on the pitch when Barbarians hooker Schalk Brits took a shot at Saracens teammate Owen Farrell, perking up the attention of the 28,643-strong crowd, which until then had witnessed a stop-start game as both sides struggled in 33 degrees Celsius heat.
Scrumhalf Mike Phillips, named man of the match, and his second-half replacement, Conor Murray, were both in fine form as the Lions ran rings around opponents who could not string together any decent phases to put pressure on the Lions.
The Baa-Baas were also penalised time and again at the scrums by Australian referee Steve Walsh and without a solid foundation they struggled for possession.
"We were starved off possession and couldn't get our hands on the ball," said Baa-Baas coach Dai Young. "We came up against a very good team. I expect them to win in Australia. They have too much depth across the board." Parisse agreed, saying: "The Lions are going to win every game in Australia if they play with quick ball as they did today."
Phillips and winger Alex Cuthbert grabbed a brace of tries each with O'Connell, Jonathan Davies, Alun Wyn Jones and Dan Lydiate also crossing over. They led 23-3 at half-time with most of the points coming from the boot of flyhalf Farrell, but then turned on the style after the break to run in six tries in an exhibition of open rugby.
The only good blow struck by the Barbarians was that by Brits, who swung a roundhouse at Farrell's head after the Lions flyhalf refused to let go of his jumper. Farrell retaliated and was penalised by the referee, who then overturned the decision after watching replays.
Gatland shrugged aside the incident - although Brits was cited after the game - but was less than pleased that Farrell had reacted.
"It's pretty hard sometimes if someone lays a punch squarely on your jaw not to react. But one of the things we are going to emphasise very strongly on this tour is players have to keep their discipline. It's a nice reminder that when things like this happen, you need to take one for your team. If you get whacked, you can't retaliate," Gatland warned.
O'Connell was happy the tour had finally got under way. "We have been training for three weeks and just to get it started is a relief. The tour really takes off from here."
The Lions leave for Perth today where they play Super 15 side Western Force on Wednesday.
"It definitely feels like the tour has started," said Gatland. "Hong Kong was a good preparation for us, but the microscope will be on us a lot more when we get down to Perth. We have been able to bond here without the intense interest that is going to be on us over the next few weeks."