Lions coach Gatland issues Farrell with a warning

British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland has warned flyhalf Owen Farrell about the need for strict discipline after a flare-up during Saturday’s thumping 59-8 win over the Barbarians in Hong Kong.

Farrell was sucker-punched in the face by his Saracens team mate Schalk Brits and Gatland said that he could could understand why Farrell hit back but warned the England man to keep his temper under wraps ahead of the Test tour of Australia.

“It’s pretty difficult not to react when you’ve just been punched square on the jaw,” said the New Zealander.

“But we strongly want to keep discipline and sometimes you have to take one for the team. You can’t retaliate.”

The incident, just minutes into Saturday’s tour opener, follows an 11-week ban which ruled England hooker Dylan Hartley out of the trip after he angrily accused referee Wayne Barnes of cheating.

Brits escaped with a yellow card for the offence at the time and has since been cited and will have a disciplinary on Sunday but Farrell could also have been punished for his retaliatory swipe at the South African.

Discipline is likely be a pivotal area in the internationals against Australia as the Lions seek their first Test series win since 1997.

The tour’s first fisticuffs were part of a mixed night for Farrell, who slotted six kicks but also fell prey to a series of errors with the ball in hand.

However, Gatland defended the England man’s handling, blaming greasy, slippery conditions caused by soaring humidity after Hong Kong’s hottest day of the year so far.

“It was like a bar of soap,” Gatland said of the sweat-soaked ball which Farrell managed to spill time and again.

“Shirts were soaked, players would feel that they had caught the ball OK but when they went to pass it just slipped away. You have to make allowances for that sometimes.”

And overall, Gatland was delighted with the eight-tries-to-one victory which, he said, “reflected our dominance”.

“I’m only disappointed we conceded a try,” Gatland said. “But those guys out there laid down a marker and I couldn’t ask for anything better to prepare us for Australia.”

He also defended the decision to bring his squad to play in 32C (90F) heat and 75 percent humidity, afterwards likening the stress placed on the players to “a week at high altitude”.

Veteran Lions captain Paul O’Connell, who scored the opening try, said he had never played in tougher conditions, despite the unusual move to punctuate the game with four water breaks.

“They were the most difficult conditions I’ve ever experienced,” O’Connell said.

“You just didn’t seem to able to recover out there. Usually when there’s a break in play your heart rate drops quickly, and you recover. Out there it just didn’t happen.

“But I have no doubt that a workout like that, in those conditions, will prove to be great for us later on in the tour.”

Meanwhile Barbarians coach Dai Young tried to lay to rest the on-off selection saga of Hong Kong’s only representative in his squad, Rowan Varty.

Varty was left out of the initial matchday squad, then announced as an unorthodox extra replacement a few hours later, with the Barbarians saying he was cover for Mike Tindall, who had picked up a slight injury.

However, Varty did not make the final team-sheet and missed out on the chance to play in front of his home fans at Hong Kong Stadium, with Tindall taking the field instead.

“There was no on-off about it,” Young told reporters. “He was always our 24th man so when Mike Tindall had a niggle he was put on standby.

“Mike was fit in the end. But Rowan didn’t look out of place in the squad and I am sure he has got a big future ahead of him.”

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