Dave Gantly looks ahead to the upcoming Lions tour and the clash with the Barbarians.
With the Lions squad departing London today to travel to Hong Kong to tackle the Barbarians this coming Saturday, the wait is nearly over.
Can the Lions kick off their tour with an impressive showing against the Ba Bas or will it be a shock first defeat of the tour for the tourists? After the Barbarians poor showing against a young and inexperienced English side at Twickenham last Sunday, it Is hard to see anything else than a win to ignite what is sure to be a fascinating tour.
Yes the Barbarians have some quality in their ranks with the likes of Italian Captain Sergio Parisse, New Zealand winger Joe Rokococo and French flanker Imanol Harinordoquy leading the charge. You then look at the Lions squad and it is just brimming with world-class talent in every department.
It will be interesting to see what team exactly Lions Head Coach Warren Gatland picks for the first ever meeting between the Lions and the Barbarians. You would expect Gatland and his backroom staff to use this game to experiment with different partnerships and to rest players who have been playing in their clubs recent end of season fixtures. More important games are to come but that is not to say they will take this game lightly. An impressive showing and a win is crucial for confidence before tough games down under against the likes of Western Force and the Waratahs. The first test will not be long coming around on the 22nd of June at the Suncorp stadium in Brisbane.
At full back Welsh fullback Leigh Halfpenny may be given his chance to nail down his spot in the starting XV for the first test against the Wallabies. His closest contender for the jersey is Ireland and Leinster fullback Rob Kearney who is likely to be rested given his recent game time for Leinster. Kearney’s experience is crucial and on his day he is one of the best full backs in the world. South Africa will agree with that.
On the wings the powerful Welsh winger George North may be handed his chance to show what damage he can do, with his skills and strength astonishing for a player of such a young age at 21. His partner in crime Alex Cuthbert is another exciting talent who will hope to play some part in this fixture, with his physical presence daunting for any opposing defence. Scotland’s Sean Maitland will be very much in consideration after a strong Six Nations showing, however.
At fly half, Scotland’s Stuart Hogg is supposedly going to be given his chance to show he is an alternative to Jonny Sexton and Owen Farrell at 10, with Munster and Ireland scrum half Conor Murray expected to join him in an exciting half back partnership.
In midfield, Wales first centre Jamie Roberts will hope to be given the nod to put down a marker after a quiet season by his high standards. Outside him, England’s abrasive Manu Tuilagi and Wales Jonathan Davies will hope to be handed second centre duties. With O’Driscoll likely to be rested, it will be intriguing to see how the midfield partnerships work. Tuilagi and Roberts are very similar in their aggressive style of play while Davies offers something different with his ball handling and eye for a hole in the opposition defence.
In the forwards the surprise pick Matt Stevens may be given his chance to prove his doubters wrong with England’s Dan Cole and Mako Vunipola having something to say about that. Leinster prop Cian Healy is likely to be rested while loosehead Adam Jones will look to strengthen his test credentials if given the chance. At hooker, Rory Best’s call up following Dylan Hartley’s 11-week suspension throws the hooker test spot wide open. Wales Richard Hibbard is favourite but now that Best has made the touring party, his sights will be on that test no 2 jersey and if he impresses, it could prove to be a remarkable turn around for the Ulsterman.
In the second row Richie Gray will hope to be picked given his quiet season. He was lucky to be picked but on his day he is world class and will look to prove that if called upon this weekend. Munster’s Paul O’Connell will look to continue his good form if called upon with England’s Geoff Parling and Wales Ian Evans also in contention. Alun Wyn Jones, a Lions tourist in 2009, has had his test chances written off by many pundits and will have a fight on his hands for crucial game time.
The back row is an area of particular strength for the Lions. When you leave out quality players such as England’s Captain Chris Robshaw and Ireland’s Peter O’Mahony, you know there is serious strength in depth. Sean O’Brien’s injury is a concern but it is expected he will be fit for selection while Dan Lydiate and Justin Tipuric may be given the chance at 6 and 7 respectively. At no 8, Toby Faletau and Jamie Heaslip are contenders for the test side, with Faletau expected to take the jersey. Heaslip will look to continue his recent good form however but may be rested for this game given his game time recently.
As for the Barbarians, they will look to regain some pride following last weeks defeat to England and will look to the majestic Sergio Parisse to lead the way. He will be accompanied by big names such as Italian prop Martin Castrogiovanni, Wales’s fly half James Hook and electric New Zealand winger Joe Rokococo. The forwards battle looks to be very intense with France’s Imanol Harinordoquy, Wales hooker Matthew Rees and Munster’s BJ Botha all expected to play some part this weekend. Up against an immensely talented Lions pack, we are in for a battle this weekend.
Can the Lions roar their way to a first victory before they head down under? Will they make a big statement to the Wallabies who lie in wait?
This Saturday afternoon in Hong Kong – it all begins.
The wait is nearly over.
Sport Is Everything. Dave Gantly.
You can read more of Dave’s articles via his personal blog.
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