Lions Tour: Owen Farrell provides sobering reminder of greater tests ahead


There had been a lot of talk about alcohol since the Lions arrived in Hong Kong, mainly in connection with a booze ban supposedly self-imposed by the Barbarians. This, we knew from common sense and photographic evidence of a midweek night at the races, was a story that owed more to nice alliteration than strict interpretation of the facts.

The Baa-Baas carried on supping sensible quantities of wine in the build-up; the Lions got on with the main purpose of their Asian stopover – well, the non-commercial one – and had a belting night out, rugby-wise.

They had been this way before – the Lions, that is. In 1971, while taking an overnight rest in Hong Kong en route to New Zealand for one of the mere four tours in 125 years that ended with a series victory, the men in red hammered into the red, white and rosé, not to mention the designated tour tipple of LGT (large gin and tonic). According to the great JPR Williams, he and a few team-mates were late for training the following day. What japes, eh?

These days, all hell would break loose if Owen Farrell were caught leaping into the dentist's chair in the Chinese former colony, although the young England fly-half's muddle-headed, sweaty-handed display in an otherwise authoritative first hit-out for the 2013 Lions was enough to turn a man to drink.

So much has happened so soon for the emotionally out-there Saracen – who is arguably not even the best fly-half at his club, given the presence of Charlie Hodgson, let alone in Britain and Ireland – that you fear he is walking, chin jutting out, heart on his sleeve, into a waiting chasm. Now we understand why there has been talk of Jonny Wilkinson being persuaded to join the tour in Australia as a third fly-half, despite the head coach, Warren Gatland, having previously stated that two was his preferred number.

The Lions by definition are obliged to pick something of a scratch side, so a player needs to be immediately comfortable with the man alongside him. Mike Phillips, at scrum-half, is disinclined at the best of times to feed his No 10 if a more direct route presents itself. Here, with Farrell enduring all manner of scrapes in the early stages, the black-haired Phillips was happy to make his own dents at the coalface.

As surely the first international team to be selected by a fixture computer, with more than a dozen players ruled out by their involvement in last weekend's Premiership and Pro 12 finals, and nudged into where to play by their Hong Kong-connected sponsors, the Lions were not the first to kick off a tour on the wrong continent.

Their 2005 counterparts, heading for New Zealand, began against Argentina in Cardiff. The match, even more weirdly, was given Test status, and the Lions scraped a highly unpromising 25-25 draw, including 20 points kicked by Wilkinson. The 2013 tour will gain proper momentum on Wednesday in Perth, where the 2001 Lions set out with a 116-10 trouncing of Western Australia. Yesterday Sir Ian McGeechan, an über Lion after umpteen tours as centre, coach and now pundit, suggested a 30-point win would be satisfactory, whereas a 60-pointer would indicate the Barbarians' livers had been of the lily variety. The non-playing Lions squad members mingled pitchside at the end with those who had been given the first run and won by 51. For Brian O'Driscoll, Manu Tuilagi, Dan Cole and the rest, their time will come, soon enough.

The curtain-raiser worked out well, and for that Gatland and friends should raise a thankful beer. But just the one, for now.


Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific