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Preview: Barbarians v Lions

31st May 2013 00:18

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Key chance: Owen Farrell

For only the second time ever, in the humidity of Hong Kong, the British and Irish Lions will face the Barbarians to start their 2013 tour to Australia.

Without tour captain Sam Warburton due to a knee problem, the 2009 skipper Paul O'Connell will guide Warren Gatland's hastily put-together side through their opening encounter.

Having O'Connell carry on from where he left off in the comfortable third Test victory over South Africa adds a rare touch of familiarity to the 37-man Lions squad - of which only 13 have worn the famous red jersey before.

Those players involved in domestic finals from Leicester, Leinster and Ulster are pre-dominantly rested for this weekend aside from Tom Youngs, Cian Healy, Jamie Heaslip and Johnny Sexton amongst the replacements.

The selection opens the door for those who many feel are already down in the pecking order to show their worth. The Scottish trio of Stuart Hogg, Sean Maitland and Richie Gray are all exciting talents, but do not appear to be first choices.

Mako Vunipola, the uncontrollable talent from Saracens, is another who could ruffle some feathers with an assured performance at loosehead prop, particularly if the game opens up.

Others such as Owen Farrell are hunting for form. The two fly-halves policy adopted by the Lions has pros and cons, but Saturday's match is certainly a positive - it allows Farrell the chance to grow within the squad and the shirt and find himself again after a wobbly few months in big matches.

With nine Welshman starting there will be an air of familiarity, but the bench is where the Lions will come into their own. Healy, Alun Wyn Jones, Sexton and George North offer some of the best talent the British Isles has available, whilst Youngs is yet to reach the mountain top on his impressive rise after being named Aviva Premiership Player of the Season.

In Rustenburg in 2009 the Lions toiled in their opening match, struggling at altitude. 2013 will begin in great humidity in a spectacular setting, but the current crop already feel more prepared.

The Barbarians on the other hand looked scattered when they took to the field at Twickenham against England last weekend. The idea of a match where the Barbarians come away without scoring a try seems flatly wrong, yet it was almost a reality last Sunday.

Humbled by a youthful England outfit, the Barbarians have injected world-class talent across their side in the form of Nick Evans, Dimitri Yachvili and of course the brilliant Sergio Parisse.

The great Italian number eight can obviously not do it all on his own, but has become accustomed to doing so for club and country and will cause the Lions serious problems. With Samu Manoa alongside him to bring physicality to an impressive pack of forwards, this will be no cruise for the Lions.

Historical fact - the Lions and the Barbarians have only faced each other once before, a 23-14 victory to the men in red to mark the Silver Jubilee celebrations for Queen Elizabeth II. That is a scoreline the Lions would probably settle for again in testing conditions in Hong Kong.

Ones to Watch:

For the Barbarians: Considering the amount of international talent in the Barbarians side, Elliot Daly is probably kicking himself when he looks around at training. The precociously talented 20-year old is on a rapid rise to the top and has all the qualities to suggest he is an England international in-waiting.

For the Lions: Stuart Hogg has been given plenty of responsibility already on this Lions tour by ensuring the safe passage of imposing mascot BIL, but the Barbarians offer a different threat. Hogg is complete like most Test full-backs, but his searing pace truly marks him out from the rest. In a sprint there can't be many quicker in the Lions squad and if the game opens up, he will prove it.

Head-to-Head: Plenty of focus will be on Owen Farrell following his recent dip in form, but he will be up against a familiar foe in Harlequins' number ten Nick Evans. The All Black seems made for this kind of stage and will thrive in a half-back partnership alongside Yachvili.

Prediction: A rusty first half should increase the jitters, but the Lions should begin their tour with a positive omen. Expect the heat to play a key role. Lions by 9.

The teams:

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.

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.

Date: Saturday June 1
Venue: Hong Kong Stadium, Hong Kong
Kick-off: 19.30 (11.30 GMT)
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant referees: Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa), Angus Gardner (Australia)
Television match official: Matt Goddard (Australia)

by Ben Coles
@bencoles_