British and Irish Lions 2013: Captain Sam Warburton in doubt for tour opening game against Barbarians

The Wales skipper suffered a knock to his knee in training last week

Sam Warburton would not be the first British and Irish Lions captain to miss the start of a tour – the great Martin Johnson was secretly carrying an injury when he flew to South Africa in 1997 and failed to appear in either of the first two matches – but if the Welsh flanker is ruled out of this weekend’s curtain-up meeting with the Barbarians, he will not take comfort from history. Johnson was one of the giants of the ’97 party and had no peer as a front-jumping enforcer. Warburton? He has rivals coming at him from all directions.

The Cardiff Blues back-rower took no part in the Lions’ opening training session at the  Aberdeen Sports Ground on the evocatively named Wong Chuk Hang Road because he had failed to shake off a knee problem picked up during a session before departure. “It’s just a bit puffy, that’s all,” said Rob Howley, the attack coach. “We wanted to give him time before Saturday. And anyway, the strength in depth we have among the loose forwards is there for all to see.”

In other words, the Lions hierarchy will be perfectly happy, if needs must, to set things rolling with another Welsh breakaway, Justin Tipuric, in the No 7 shirt. Warburton might not see it that way, however. Having spent most of the northern hemisphere season in better form than his countryman, Tipuric is considered to be a genuine candidate for the Test series in Australia, and as any plan to shift the captain to the other side of the scrum could easily be complicated by one of three formidably talented blind-side operators, there is little room for error. Or, indeed, for orthopaedic hassle.

Warren Gatland, the head coach, was due to name his starting team today: a line-up expected to be drawn from those players who played a full part in preparations back in the old country. Those tourists who joined up late after playing in various domestic and European finals – the likes of the Irish centre Brian O’Driscoll and his Leinster colleagues, together with half a dozen men of Leicester – will stake their initial claims for Test preferment when the party arrives in Wallaby country next week for games in Perth and Brisbane.

If Warburton’s situation is not a wholly new event in the annals of Lions touring, it may well be that the Barbarians will break fresh ground by playing “dry”. The most celebrated scratch side in the sport did put up much of a fight at Twickenham four days ago - you might argue that they laid back and thought of England instead of standing up and competing against them – and Gatland’s subsequent assertion that their performance might have had something to do with the quality of their socialising clearly struck home.

Derek Quinnell, a Lion of 1970s vintage who is managing the Baa-Baas on this Asian jaunt, declared that the players had decided to impose a drinking ban on themselves. “We went out last night for an hour with Carlsberg (the Danish brewer),” he reported. “I think they were under the under the impression that a few pints would be sunk, but about 90 per cent of the squad were on cola. They knew last weekend wasn’t good enough and it’s been a kick up the backside for them. Fair play to them, they’ve reacted well.”

Sergio Parisse, commonly lauded as the world’s finest No 8, will lead a much-changed side that looks stronger in pretty much every department than the one responsible for the watered-down performance at Twickenham. The Italian will be accompanied in the spine of the side by the Springbok hooker Schalk Brits, the masterly French scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili and an All Black outside-half in Nick Evans, the Harlequins playmaker. There are also starts for the New Zealand wing Joe Rokocoko and a couple of uncapped Wasps youngsters in Elliot Daly and Sam Jones.

According to David Young, another former Lion on Baa-Baas back-room duty, everyone involved was suitably chastened by the heavy defeat at the weekend. “We are not going to shy away from the fact that we all felt let down after the England game,” the coach admitted. “We didn’t play anything like we expected and we know we have to step things up. Preparation and training are spot on now. We’ve been concentrating on getting the basics right and earning the right to play rather than just going out there and chucking the ball around.”

Gatland and his Lions will be grateful for that. Things will be very serious indeed when they run up against two hardened Super 15 sides in Western Force and Queensland Reds in the coming days. They need a proper work-out here. Badly.

Suggested Topics
News
people
News
John Rees-Evans is standing for Ukip in Cardiff South and Penarth
news
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
News
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
Sport
David Silva, Andy Carroll, Arsene Wenger and Radamel Falcao
football
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'