British and Irish Lions 2013: Why are the Lions (sponsored by HSBC) in Asia anyway?

Lions sick of 'horrific' heat and humidity in Hong Kong as Adam Jones slams 'shocking' conditions in Far East on tour's sponsor-driven leg

Hong Kong

The Test series against Australia is still more than three weeks distant, but the British and Irish Lions will face an equally extreme test of a very different kind tomorrow in weather conditions just about as alien to them as it is possible to imagine. Their opening tour game against a strong Barbarians side is expected to be played in 80 degree heat and even higher levels of humidity – a prospect described as "horrific" by the Welsh forward Adam Jones.

"Training here has made me feel sick," the tight-head prop said. "When you're running, it seems OK. When you stop to catch your breath and realise it's not there… that's when it's bad. Our sessions have been a shock to the system, and the locals think the game is going to be played on the warmest day of the year. It can be quite balmy down in Neath on a good day, but this is a bit different. I think the conditions could be more difficult than anything I've experienced in my career."

Forecasters are predicting evening humidity of 87 per cent and while the Barbarians players will feel every bit as uncomfortable as the Lions, it is not they who must fly to Perth the day after the game and embark on a brutally demanding nine-match trek around Wallaby country. If the move to launch this tour in Asia rather than Australia seemed like a good idea at the time, those responsible for the decision are surely having second thoughts now.

While the Lions hierarchy have claimed that opportunities for a further game in Australia were limited – a fragile argument, given that the Wallaby second-string, regular opponents on previous tours, are conspicuous by their absence from this year's fixture list – the impetus came from the banking giant HSBC, the principal backer of the tour. No one seriously believes this game would be taking place here but for the sponsors' historical link with the former colony.

Not that things have quite gone to plan even on the commercial front. The Hong Kong Stadium in So Kon Po has a capacity of 40,000, but only 26,000 tickets have been sold – a shortfall caused by the reluctance of travelling Lions supporters to add to the cost of a very expensive trip by breaking their journey to Australia. "We are very grateful to the Hong Kong rugby community for supporting this match but there is nothing we can do about the overseas followers," said Trevor Gregory, the chairman of the local union. "At the end of the day, that was out of our control."

There have also been a couple of unfortunate public relations incidents. The saga surrounding the dropping and reinstating of the one Hong Kong player in the Baa-Baas squad, Rowan Varty, led to allegations that the sponsors had influenced selection. Then, there was news of supporters being ousted from a Lions training session because they had no HSBC "affiliation".

For all that, the main issue is meteorological. Four years ago, when the Lions toured South Africa, the players in the opening game in Rustenburg struggled to cope with the effects of altitude. Those participating tomorrow are likely to struggle a whole lot more and there is concern among the conditioning staff that dehydration levels will be off the scale. Anyone asked to "back up" in the first game proper, against Western Force next Wednesday, will find life very challenging indeed.

Yet Jones, who weighs the best part of 20st and was not obviously constructed with the Hong Kong climate in mind, considers this meeting with the Barbarians to be a highlight of his career, even though he has Six Nations Grand Slams and Lions Test caps to his name. "I think it's a massive game," he said. "We're talking about two of the most famous sides in all of rugby and they've met only once before [in 1977, to mark the Queen's silver jubilee]. I wouldn't put it right up there with a Lions Test, but it's special to be involved.

"I'll be propping against Paul James, who I've known since I was 16 and is one my best mates. Apart from one Welsh Schools final, I don't remember us ever coming face to face – not even in training when we were together at Ospreys. How will it go? It's difficult to say, Maybe we'll strike a gentlemen's agreement before the first scrum."

Paul O'Connell's promotion to the leadership role, forced on the Lions coaches by Sam Warburton's struggle with a knee injury, is merely a restoration of the status quo: the Irish lock was skipper in South Africa in 2009 and might even have secured a series victory but for a last-ditch penalty concession in Pretoria.

"Paul is a captain who speaks from the heart," said Jones, who won his first Lions caps on that tour. "He probably gets revved up in the changing room a little more than Sam does and he'll be very effective. Sam is pretty gutted about missing out, but he's switched-on about things and knows what it takes to get himself fit."

Australia's James O'Connor will return from a chest injury to direct the Melbourne Rebels against his main rival for the Wallaby No 10 jersey – the out-of-favour Quade Cooper – in a Super Rugby match against the Queensland Reds tomorrow.

O'Connor, picked by the Australia coach, Robbie Deans, as his favoured fly-half for the Wallabies, has missed the past two Rebels matches with the injury. Cooper, who was fined last year for criticising the Wallabies with his "toxic environment" claim, was not included in Deans' initial 25-man squad for the series, but a further six players are to be added on 11 June.

Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
premier league
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
people'I hated him during those times'
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleMemoir extracts show iconic designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Life and Style
fashionAlexander Fury's Spring/Summer 2015 London Fashion Week roundup
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late on stage in Brixton show
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
people''Women's rights is too often synonymous with man-hating'
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam