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

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
news
Life & Style
tech
Arts & Entertainment
Ricky Gervais at a screening of 'Muppets Most Wanted' in London last month
tvRicky Gervais on the return of 'Derek' – and why he still ignores his critics
Sport
Luis Suarez of Liverpool celebrates his goal
sport
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatreReview: Of Mice and Men, Longacre Theatre
Life & Style
Infant child breast-feeding with eyes closed
healthTo stop mummy having any more babies, according to scientists
News
news
Arts & Entertainment
film
Life & Style
Going down: Google's ambition to build an elevator into space isn't likely to be fulfilled any time soon
techTechnology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Arts & Entertainment
Homer meets Lego Marge in the 25th anniversary episode of The Simpsons, set to air on 4 May
tv
Life & Style
From long to Jong: Guy Pewsey gets the North Korean leader's look
fashionThe Independent heads to an Ealing hairdressers to try out the North Korean dictator's trademark do
Extras
indybest10 best smartphones
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

Education: Secret of Taunton's success

Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal