Ken Owens was probably the most shocked man in Auckland on Monday when he was named captain of the British and Irish Lions for their match against the Blues on Wednesday night, just weeks after fearing his tour of New Zealand was over before it started.
Having made 15 changes to his starting line-up that sees Sam Warburton, Rory Best, Alun Wyn Jones and Greig Laidlaw unavailable to lead the side, head coach Warren Gatland turned to Wales hooker Owens to skipper the Lions in their second tour match.
But it could have been so different for Owens, with the 30-year-old missing the end of the season through an ankle injury that not only kept him out of the Scarlets momentous Pro12 final victory, but also facing a race to be fit for the Lions tour.
“I was a bit worried having done the scans, speaking to the specialist,” Owens said. “I then spoke to the doctor and physio afterwards who said ‘there’s nothing we can do now, just do everything you can to get yourself fit and right for the trip’.
“It was literally three days of icing and feet up and thankfully it was good enough to go to the second camp in Dublin. Once I got to Ireland, I was a lot more confident of making the trip.”
Lions vs New Zealand Provincial Barbarians player ratings
Lions vs New Zealand Provincial Barbarians player ratings
1/15 Stuart Hogg - 5 out of 10
Butchered a try-scoring opportunity when his poor pass forced Watson to sprawl just to catch the ball, and also should have got over the line following good work from Te’o. Failed to collect the ball when chipped through by Inga Finau in defence.
2/15 Anthony Watson – 6 out of 10
Finished his try well, dancing his way past Laulala to touch down and score what proved to be the match-winning try. Otherwise he was fairly anonymous.
3/15 Jonathan Joseph – 5 out of 10
Apart from being held up with the final play of the first half, he did little of note and was outshined by his centre partner.
4/15 Ben Te’o – 7 out of 10
Looked the most lively Lion out there as he made two surging breaks in the first half, the second of which should have sent Hogg over. Continued to work hard after breaks and made another telling run into the Barabarians 22, and he also did a shift in defence with a crucial ball-rip in the closing minutes.
5/15 Tommy Seymour – 6 out of 10
Starved of the ball which gave him little to do. One good kick-chase forced a knock-on, but that’s about it.
6/15 Jonathan Sexton – 5 out of 10
Did not cover himself in glory at all as his passing was wayward and kicked straight into touch on the full from an attacking scrum. Missed his first effort at goal, and was receiving treatment when the next shot at goal came around, meaning Greig Laidlaw had to take it. His withdrawal and the introduction of Owen Farrell changed the game.
7/15 Greig Laidlaw – 6 out of 10
Lacked the direction needed to guide a pack that has barely played together and he was too slow to take the ball from the breakdown. Looked unsure of his options whenever he took the ball to the line, that meant he at times needed to take the ball into contact unnecessarily.
8/15 Joe Marler – 6 out of 10
Didn’t enjoy the scrum advantage that you would have expected from the big Harlequins prop, and his high work-rate at the start of the game tailed off slightly as the barbarians fought fire with fire. Replaced in a full front-row switch in the 50th minute.
9/15 Rory Best – 6 out of 10
Solid at the lineout as the Lions were at least able to battle on that front, but he was off the pace in the loose.
10/15 Kyle Sinckler – 7 out of 10
Enjoyed a good start to the match, and while he was carrying well, it was his slight of touch that impressed with neat offloads and long passes to the back line standing out. He left the field after a silly decision to tap-and-go from a penalty that resulted in conceding one, but the fact that that proved to be his final contribution should not take away from a good outing.
11/15 Alun Wyn Jones - 7 out of 10
Wore a big hit from replacement hooker Andrew Makalio but recovered well and dished out his own punishment when Sevu Reece ran down his channel. One of the more reliable players and showed his experience at the death to see out the match.
12/15 Iain Henderson - 6 out of 10
Failed to collect the kick-off that resulted in seven minutes of pressure without the Lions escaping their half. Carried well though that freed up his teammates, but didn’t have the impact that he would have wanted.
13/15 Ross Moriarty - 7 out of 10
Two big tackles and one strong run saw him bounce off two defenders before surging into the opposition 22. One of the Lions’ more prominent runners and put in a few powerful tackles, while it was his insurgence in the Barbarians 22 that set-up the Lions’ try.
14/15 Sam Warburton - 5 out of 10
Fairly anonymous in the first half, both as a leader and as an openside flanker. He looked shattered at the start of the second half, which is no surprise given he has not played for two months. He was replaced by Justin Tipuric shy of the hour mark.
15/15 Taulupe Faletau – 7 out of 10
Two good runs in the first half got the Lions onto the front foot, and he also showed strength to stay on his feet before hitting the deck when the support arrived. Looked to take on some responsibility when it wasn’t all going the Lions’ way, and he further cemented his place in the Test line-up with a simply brilliant try-saving tackle on Reece Suva.
The appointment of Owens as captain in Warburton’s absence can help make up for the fact that he missed the last three matches of the season for the Scarlets, in which the side beat both Leinster and Munster in the play-offs to lift the Pro12 title against the odds.
The Scarlets captain now gets to lead out the Lions, something he was keen to point out that he now had a responsibility to live up to the history of the shirt.
“Last night before dinner [Gatland] asked me if I’d captain the side,” Owens added. “Massive shock – obviously my first tour, my first game for the Loins, and look at the experience in the side. I am really proud to be given this opportunity.”
Owens added: “I think a [Lions captain is] a player who wears his heart on his sleeve and leads by his actions on the field. Some are a lot better speakers than others, they make a lot more speeches and things like that, things that go down in history, but generally I think every Lions captain has been right in the thick of the action and leading by his actions on the field. Hopefully I can do that justice on Wednesday night.
“Obviously there’s slightly more pressure because of the enormity of playing for the Lions, but I don’t think you can generally try and change the way you play or the way you lead or captain the side by what side it is. I think you’ve got to try and adapt where you need to but try be yourself and play and lead and speak the way you would if you were back with your club or with your country. I think you shouldn’t change your philosophy as a player too much.”Reuse content