Lions 59-8 Barbarians: Player Focus

Simon Chadwick

After 4 years of anticipation, the British and Irish Lions are back, with Warren Gatland taking his side to tour Australia. The Lions play 6 warm-up games in the build-up to a best-of-three series against the host nation. After each game, we will take a look at those Lions performers who pushed themselves forward for selection for the Test XV against Australia later this month.

The 2013 Lions got their tour off to a winning start on Saturday, beating the Barbarians 59-8 in punishing conditions in Hong Kong. The 33 degree temperature and 85% humidity made for tough conditions, but the Lions managed to cope better, running in 8 tries to 1 in a comprehensive victory. The Lions selected the 23 for this game mainly from players who have been in training camp for the last two weeks. This meant that players who had been involved with their club or province in end-of-season play-offs and finals were largely not considered for selection, with just a handful making the bench for Saturday's games. Of the 23 players wearing the red on Saturday, here are those we thought advanced their case for Test selection furthest:

Mike Phillips

Scrum-half Phillips was the Test 9 for the Lions on their last tour, to South Africa in 2009, and he clearly wants to keep the shirt for this year's tour. The Lions are playing in Gatland's trademark power-base style, used to such good effect by Wales in recent years. Phillips has excelled in the Welsh system and it's business as usual for the giant scrum-half in this Lions set-up. Playing behind an utterly dominant pack on Saturday, Phillips had space to make his trademark powerful breaks off the base, continually breaking from the fringe and penetrating the Barbarians' defence. He finished with two tries, showing great power to ride a Joe Rococoko tackle to score his first before a clever dummy off clean line-out ball allowed him to race away and finish for the second. His passing was mixed, but that can be put down to the slippy ball, with many players having similar difficulty in making even basic passes. Phillips seems tailor-made for this Lions side and is heavy favourite to start the Tests, with Conor Murray, who had a fine 20-minute cameo himself on Saturday, and Ben Youngs vieing for the substitute spot.


Jonathan Davies

Many people have already marked down the Roberts-O'Driscoll partnership for a swift resumption in the Lions Test midfield, but Jonathan Davies will certainly have something to say about that. Davies is a fantastic talent, but one whose form has been patchy this season. However, on Saturday he seemed to have clicked right back into form with an encouraging performance, capped off with an opportunist try. The young centre resumed his international partnership with Jamie Roberts, with both men to the fore of the Lions defensive efforts and also carrying strongly in attack. Davies has been at the heart of the Welsh midfield over the last few years, and is very highly rated by Gatland. He seems to be the kind of player who improves with each level of quality he steps up to. Davies has spoken this week of the thrill of training with his hero, O'Driscoll, but if he keeps performing as he did on Saturday, he may well have the new thrill of keeping his idol off the Test XV.

Paul O'Connell

There were echoes of 2009 as captain from that tour, Paul O'Connell, skippered the Lions side on Saturday, in the absence of tour captain Sam Warburton and it seemed that the last four years had never happened as O'Connell led from the front, hounding the Barbarians when they had the ball, and turning-over plenty of ball at ruck time. Although the lineout faltered once or twice, it was predominantly a powerful attacking platform with O'Connell calling the shots in the air. We were also treated to a rare Paulie try, with the captain forcing his way over from close range in the first half to open the Lions' account. O'Connell missed a huge chunk of this season with injury and there had been questions over whether he could stand up the rigours of a Lions tour. It seems though that, by contrast, O'Connell is getting stronger with every game he plays and seems destined to make the Test side, although it must be said that the battle for second row spots looks like being one of the most competitive areas in the entire squad. The captaincy may not be his this time, but an O'Connell in this form makes it very hard for Gatland to look anywhere else.





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Simon Chadwick
Article written by
College drop-out trying to live in the real world while retaining the college lifestyle. Rugby supporter, player and fanatic. Occasional sports journalist. Wicklow man consistently accused of D4 bias. Any and all feedback appreciated.
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