British & Irish Lions open tour with big Baabaas win

The British & Irish Lions opened their 2013 tour of Hong Kong and Australia by thumping the Barbarians 8-59 in Hong Kong.

The Lions, who will be seeking their first Test series win in 16 years when they fly to Australia on Sunday, ran in eight tries in hot, humid conditions for a convincing victory.

Stand-in captain Paul O’Connell got the Lions off to the best possible start as he scored the first of eight tries, including two from winger Alex Cuthbert and another brace from scrumhalf Mike Phillips.

Irish lock O’Connell, the 2009 tour skipper, was filling in on armband duties for the injured Sam Warburton, and he touched down in the 28th minute for his first try in 12 appearances in the Lions’ famous red shirt.

The game was played in stifling conditions on the hottest day of the year in the southern Chinese city, where the mercury nudged 35C (95F) in mid-afternoon and had dropped only slightly to 32C by the 7:30 pm kick-off.

“It’s a tremendous win,” said Phillips, who was named man of the match. “It was tough conditions… obviously there were some mistakes but that’s a great way to start the tour off.”

He added: “It was very difficult but I thought, all in all, this gives us a platform to work from and we can push on from here.”

England flyhalf Owen Farrell, wearing the Lions number 10 jersey for the first time, was quickly in the thick of the action and got the Lions on the board with a 40-metre penalty after three minutes.

Minutes later Farrell was the focus of the first fisticuffs of the tour when he was sucker-punched by his Saracens club team-mate Schalk Brits at the breakdown.

Australian referee Steve Walsh initially gave the penalty against the England man but reversed his decision, correctly, after the incident was replayed on the stadium’s big screen, and waved a yellow card at Brits.

The game was scrappy for much of the first half with ball frequently spilled by sweaty hands, but the Barbarians managed to level the scores just before Brits returned from the sin-bin with an Elliot Daly penalty in the 16th minute.

Seconds later Farrell put the Lions ahead with his second successful kick, and after O’Connell’s try they were never headed.

Farrell enjoyed a successful night with the boot, landing six of seven attempts, but was replaced before the hour by Ireland’s Johnny Sexton after a poor handling display.

Scrumhalf Phillips did his chances of a Test spot at number nine no harm with two individual tries, scampering in first from a maul and then a line-out, either side of half-time.

That put the Lions 30-3 ahead but the Baa-Baas did raise the biggest cheer of the night with a trademark running try, started by a sumptuous Joe Rokocoko sidestep and finished by Kahn Fotuali’i.

The Lions quickly responded with two more of their own, from Jonathan Davies and Alex Cuthbert, and stretched out the lead to 42-8.

Among a flurry of fresh legs appearing from the bench, Conor Murray replaced Phillips and almost with his first touch broke away to send Cuthbert in for his second score.

With five minutes remaining the Lions opted to take a lineout on the Barbarians line rather than kick a penalty and were rewarded when Wales flanker Dan Lydiate rounded off a training ground grab-and-drive.

Another Welshman, Alun Wyn Jones, also crossed in the last minute to complete the Lions rout.

The British and Irish Lions will depart Hong on Sunday and fly to Perth, where they will begin the Australian tour against Western Force on Wednesday.

The cream of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales have not won a Test series since defeating South Africa in 1997 and on their last visit to Australia, they were edged out 2-1 in the dying seconds of the final Test.

They face the Wallabies in three Tests in Brisbane on June 22, Melbourne on June 29 and Sydney on July 6.


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