Lions Tour: Testing conditions leave players feeling heat
Nobody quite said that a Hong Kong evening in June was the worst possible place and time for a high-profile game of rugby, but the players subjected to exhausting levels of heat and humidity yesterday were as one in describing the experience as the most testing of their careers. Sergio Parisse, Paul O'Connell, Adam Jones – some of the world's outstanding forwards indicated that if they ever played in such conditions again, it would be a million years too soon.
"It was the same for both teams so I'm not using this as an excuse, but it was so difficult to run, to catch, to throw spin passes, to manage the ball in contact," said Parisse, the Baa-Baas' captain. "It was just so hard to recover your breath," O'Connell confessed. "It seemed your heart rate never went down."
Yesterday's contest, controversial from the outset, was arranged for commercial reasons rather than rugby ones: most union aficionados assumed the first Lions tour of Australia in a dozen years would begin in… Australia. When the nature of the weather conditions in this part of Asia dawned on the participants, there was enough concern in both the Lions and Barbarians camps to press for regular water breaks – a first at this level of the game.
David Young, a three-time Lions tourist who coached the Baa-Baas, said after the game that conditions should be taken into account in future. "No matter how fit the players are they're going to feel it in those temperatures and in that humidity," he said. "It's certainly not good for us fat blokes."
Young's opposite number in the Lions think-tank, Warren Gatland, was as diplomatic as he could be.
"In every professional sport there are commercial responsibilities to be met and we've all known that for a long time," he said. "The benefit of this from our point of view is that training and playing here is the equivalent of working at altitude. I think it could work in our favour once we reach Australia. It should be good for us."
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