Precious few Lions games in living memory have been played at such a funereal pace. Until the tourists broke the Barbarians' defensive resistance in the last half-hour by moving from first gear to second, a fleet of hearses might have overtaken both sides. But when they touch down in Australia tomorrow for the start of the real business of the summer, Warren Gatland's men will be feeling full of life. Eight tries and no injury calamities? It was just about the perfect beginning.
Local meteorologists had warned that conditions would be brutal: soaring temperatures, humidity off the scale. As it turned out, the experts could not recall a more debilitating evening, with some calling it the hottest 1 June for half a century. That the Lions were able to build after a seriously pedestrian opening quarter and keep on building all the way to the final whistle said everything for their conditioning. They are a fit party, even at the end of a long domestic campaign.
They scrummaged so strongly that Steve Walsh, the New Zealander now refereeing under the Australian flag, whistled the Baa-Baas clean out of town and into the South China Sea, and, as a result, the Lions enjoyed a surfeit of possession. As Gatland proudly pointed out afterwards: "I don't think the Baa-Baas had a single ruck in our 22 all night and our kicking game was so good we gave them only four line-outs. I'm looking on the whole thing as a positive. There wasn't a player out there on the pitch I was unhappy with, and those who are picked for the game in Perth on Wednesday know now that they will have to go at it."
Gatland was equally relaxed about the one fracas which occurred as early as the seventh minute and came as a major shock to a 28,000-strong crowd expecting an evening of fist-free festival rugby. When Owen Farrell, the young Lions outside-half, held back Schalk Brits at a ruck, the Baa-Baas hooker let fly with a punch that ended up as a forearm smash. Farrell retaliated with a push, there was a brief spell of pushing and shoving between various party gatecrashers and, at the end of it, Brits was sent to the cooler – by some distance the best place to be under the sweltering circumstances. And to think that he and Farrell are brothers in arms at Saracens.
"Yes, Owen gave him a shove, but it's pretty hard not to react at all when someone lands one on the side of your jaw," the head coach said. "Actually, it serves us as a reminder of the importance of discipline. Something like that may well happen when we get to Australia and, when it does, it will be a matter of taking one for the team. You can't retaliate if you get whacked, because the consequences may be severe."
Brits later apologised to Farrell on Twitter. He wrote: “Lions played very well tonight. sorry for the over reaction brother @owen-faz, took it to far. hope you have a great tour. enjoy aus!”
Brits has been cited for his part in the clash and will appear at a disciplinary hearing today. By the time he returned to the field last night, the scores were locked at 3-3; an opening penalty from Farrell cancelled out by a monster strike from the young Wasps centre Elliot Daly. But no sooner had Brits rejoined his props at the set-piece, than he found himself on the uncomfortable end of some ruthless scrummaging from Adam Jones. Farrell restored his side's lead with the ensuing kick at goal and, when the Lions captain, Paul O'Connell, scored from the traditional lock's distance of half an inch after the first concentrated spell of phase play, the Lions knew they were in command.
Mike Phillips, a rare old handful around the breakdown edges, was next on the score-sheet, zipping away from the Italian No 8 Sergio Parisse and touching down to the left of the posts. A third Farrell penalty left the Lions 20 points ahead at the interval and, when Phillips struck again from the most basic of line-out moves within two minutes of the restart, the only question being asked of the Lions was, how many?
Sure enough, the tries came thick and fast. Jonathan Davies, who played an intelligent hand at outside- centre, touched down after a ricochet off Jamie Roberts; Alex Cuthbert twice set sail down the right wing and disappeared into the wide blue yonder each time; Dan Lydiate scored a mauler's try; Alun Wyn Jones wrapped things up with a trundle over the line in the final stages.
All the Baa-Baas could offer in response was a single try from the substitute scrum-half Kahn Fotuali'i, although it was well worth watching, thanks to Joe Rokocoko's contribution. Rokocoko used to be a world-beating All Black wing; these days, he earns megabucks playing club rugby down in the Basque country. Just for a second or so, as he wrong-footed the outstanding Lions No 8 Toby Faletau with a glorious step off his left foot, he looked like the silver-ferned maestro of old.
It is most unlikely that Western Force, the first of the tourists' opponents in Australia, will have a player as good as Rokocoko in their team on Wednesday, but they will be far more cohesive than the Baa-Baas. Yet as Gatland was happy to point out, there have been far less satisfying starts to a Lions tour. Jones, O'Connell, Faletau and Phillips can now consider themselves early favourites for the Test team. The rest of the places are up for grabs.
Lions S Hogg (Glasgow), A Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), J Davies (Scarlets), J Roberts (Cardiff Blues), S Maitland (Glasgow); O Farrell (Saracens), M Phillips (Bayonne); M Vunipola (Saracens), R Hibbard (Ospreys), A Jones (Ospreys), R Gray (Sale), P O'Connell (Munster, capt), D Lydiate (Newport Gwent Dragons), J Tipuric (Ospreys), T Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons).
Replacements A W Jones (Ospreys) for O'Connell 29-37 and 63; T Youngs (Leicester) for Hibbard 53; C Healy (Leinster) for Vunipola 56; M Stevens (Saracens) for A Jones 56; J Sexton (Leinster) for Farrell 58; C Murray (Munster) for Phillips 58; J Heaslip (Leinster) for Faletau 63; G North (Scarlets) for Roberts 67.
Barbarians J Payne (Ulster); T Ngwenya (Biarritz), E Daly (Wasps), C Laulala (Munster), J Rokocoko (Bayonne); N Evans (Harlequins), D Yachvili (Biarritz); P James (Bath), S Brits (Saracens), M Castrogiovanni (Leicester), M Wentzel (Wasps), D Mumm (Exeter), S Manoa (Northampton), S Jones (Wasps), S Parisse (Stade Français, capt).
Replacements L Ghiralidini (Treviso) for Manoa 9-19; K Fotuali'i (Ospreys) for Yachvili 51; I Harinordoquy (Biarritz) for Mumm 51; D Jones (Ospreys) for James 57; M Tindall (Gloucester) for Ngwenya 58; J Hamilton (Gloucester) for Wentzel 58; J Hook (Perpignan) for Laulala 66; A Lo Cicero (Racing Metro) for Castrogiovanni 68.
Referee S Walsh (Australia).