David Flatman: Never mind the biceps, this Lions team has got real class

From the Front Row: Warren Gatland's Lions show glimpses of magic as momentum gathers for tour of Australia

Yesterday's match in Hong Kong had me worried from the minute it was announced. The Hong Kong climate – such a huge part of the event as it happened – is nothing like what is waiting in Australia, so acclimatisation was not the point. The Barbarians, loose and unstructured by their very definition, were never going to represent the opposition upcoming. And imagine being a Lion and getting injured before even reaching the destination proper. Frankly, it made me shudder, but my worries were misplaced.

Besides the lingering undertone surrounding the relevance of the Baa-Baas in the modern game (they are a glorious and adorable institution, but every 40 or 50-point hammering they receive dilutes their equity), yesterday was indeed a worthwhile exercise. In physical terms it was a most brutal aerobic session, and it offered the likes of Dan Lydiate some priceless game time. It also served to highlight how vital it is to have tried and tested combinations operating within the team. Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies were magnificent in the midfield, as were Richard Hibbard and Adam Jones in laying a beastly platform up front.

But the biggest surprise was not that the game was ultimately worth playing, it was the subtlety that came with that undisguised Lions power. Warren Gatland has always favoured a power game and, through his days with both Wasps and Wales, his teams' opposition have rarely been in any doubt as to what to expect come kick-off. What we saw yesterday, though, was a delicacy of touch and a thoughtfulness of line that proved the perfect foil for the crash and barge.

With blokes like Roberts in the side, the Lions will always have route one up their sleeve and, whether it is an obvious play or not, an athlete that big hitting a flat pass flat out is extremely difficult to stop. However, it can be stopped, so to see so early in the tour a level of creativity was deeply encouraging.

High-end goal-kicking aside, Owen Farrell did not have his best evening and perhaps did not manage to utilise this most capable of centre partnerships as well as he might have. But his half-back comrade, Mike Phillips, was absolutely world class, and it was more often his input that led to holes being created.

The attacking lines were, at times, a wonder to behold. We saw Roberts cutting back towards the tail of a line-out at such an angle that he almost seemed to be heading to the changing rooms, but it was so difficult to defend and, more importantly, so unexpected, that it worked beautifully and the half-break was made, bringing with it all the momentum Phillips craves.

That front-foot ball meant that Phillips, through bullocking, angular ball carries, double steps away from the ruck with a delayed pass to come and sheer aggression, shredded the Baa-Baas in a performance that will see his name written in big, red, capital letters on the Aussies' team-room flip chart.

They will, by now, be talking about how to defend him and, really, there is only one way: stop the Lions pack at source. If this objective is not achieved, Phillips could destroy Australia.

If it is, he will have to spend a lot of time shovelling ball but, if that ball can make it anywhere near the outside-centre channel, we saw evidence of some simple but gorgeous technique from Davies and what looked – had that horribly slippery ball gone to hand – like some sumptuous open-field support lines from full-back Stuart Hogg. Many were laughed at when they suggested Hogg should be a Lion, but he is, without question, a very real threat to what most, including me, believe to be Leigh Halfpenny's Test jersey.

This victory will not go down as a classic, but it could one day be looked back upon as the game that gave a classic Lions squad some invaluable early momentum. More than that, in my view it was the game that offered a glimpse of the magic we all so desperately hoped would be bolted on to this most muscular of templates. Never mind the biceps and the brawn, this could well be a Lions tour as it is meant to be, romance and all.

The Lions Down Under

Wednesday v Western Force, Perth

Saturday v Queensland Reds, Brisbane

Tues 11 June v New South Wales/Queensland Country, Newcastle

Sat 15 June v New South Wales Waratahs, Sydney

Tues 18 June v ACT Brumbies, Canberra

Sat 22 June First Test, Brisbane

Tues 25 June v Melbourne Rebels, Melbourne

Sat 29 June Second Test, Melbourne

Sat 6 July Third Test, Sydney

Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
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

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn