Can the Lions pick up where they left off four years ago?

by Staff Writer

It has been four years in the making and all of a sudden it has arrived - the opening game of the 125th anniversary DHL Australia 2013 Lions tour of the British & Irish Lions.

You have to go back to 4 July, 2009 for the last time the Lions played, but what an occasion that was - a record equalling 28-9 victory over the world champion Springboks in Johannesburg.

The challenge in front of the team in Hong Kong in Saturday's opening fixture will be almost as formidable in the shape of a Barbarians side packed full of experienced internationals. The Lions wanted a tough start to their tour and it looks like they are going to get it.

Sergio Parisse's side have a chance to make history by becoming the first team to beat the Lions in their opening game in 42 years. They also have to make up for their heavy defeat against an England XV at Twickenham last weekend.

But while there will be plenty of motivating factors for the Baa-Baas at the Hong Kong Stadium, there will be 17 new Lions in Warren Gatland's first matchday squad who will have everything to prove. They will get the chance to lay down a marker for the rest of the squad and the rest of the tour.

Gatland has already made it clear to every member of his squad that they will all get the chance to bid for a place in the Test team. Every player will get his chance to play in the opening three matches and form will count in selection thereafter.

There are six former Lions included in the squad this weekend with Paul O'Connell providing the link between 2009 and 2013 as captain once again in the absence of the injured Sam Warburton.

His experience, along with the likes of Adam Jones, Jamie Roberts and Mike Phillips in the starting line-up, will be vital on a day when everyone will be out to impress.

First game nerves are bound to play a part, although the biggest problem for both sides is likely to be the extreme heat and humidity. Extra water breaks, pitchside fans, ice vests and ice towles will be used to help the players overcome dehydration and fitness is bound to play a part in the final result.

On that score the Lions should have a considerable advantage having spent the best part of the last two weeks working on their fitness and team skills. The Baa-Baas are, by their very nature, a scratch side, although a very talented one.

Gatland has given all three Scots in his party a run out in the first game and it will be a great opportunity for Stuart Hogg, Sean Maitland and Richie Gray to showcase their talents. The same is true of England outside half Owen Farrell, who will partner Phillips at half-back.

The front five looks rock solid, with Adam Jones anchoring the scrum and O'Connell joining Gray in the second row, and the all-Welsh back row trio of Dan Lydiate, Justin Tipuric and Toby Faletau should work well together.

You never really know what to expect from the opening match on a Lions tour, but there is enough potential in the squad in 2013 to expect a convincing performance and a win.

The Lions versus the Barbarians will screen live on Fox Sports 2 from 9.30pm AEST on Saturday June 1st.

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