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Lions maul Barbarians in tour opener

By Dean Irvine, CNN
updated 1:02 PM EDT, Sat June 1, 2013
Paul O'Connell, right, led the Lions to a comprehensive victory in the absence of the injured Sam Warburton.
Paul O'Connell, right, led the Lions to a comprehensive victory in the absence of the injured Sam Warburton.
  • British and Irish Lions begin tour with a 59-8 win against Barbarians in Hong Kong
  • Lions score eight tries against the international selection ahead of trip to Australia
  • Coach Warren Gatland: "I was genuinely very, very pleased with that. It was tough."
  • Stand-in captain Paul O'Connell opened the try scoring for the Lions

Hong Kong (CNN) -- In energy-sapping conditions, the British and Irish Lions hardly had to bare their teeth to comprehensively beat the Barbarians 59-8 in the first match of their rugby tour to Australia.

"It was a good run-out and what we wanted. It was a little tougher than the scoreline suggests," Lions head coach Warren Gatland said after the match in Hong Kong.

"I think the scoreline reflected our dominance. I was genuinely very, very pleased with that today. It was tough out there. The players said (the ball) was a like a bar of soap with the humidity and the heat."

In the hot and sticky night air -- the temperature hovering around 30C in the windless Hong Kong Stadium -- the Lions ran in eight tries to one against the scratch team of internationals that last weekend had lost 40-12 to England.

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Led by the normally dynamic captain of Italy, Sergio Parisse, who said the conditions were the toughest he'd played in, the Barbarians forwards seemed determined to physically test their opposition early on.

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Scottish fullback Stuart Hogg, the Lions' youngest player at 20, looked to get his tour off on a positive note but the beginning of a scything run a couple of minutes into the match was brought to juddering halt by a crunching tackle by Barbarians center Casey Lualala.

Then after just eight minutes South African Schalk Brits, forgetting any club loyalty, sent a punch towards his Saracens teammate and Lions flyhalf Owen Farrell, earning the Barbarians' hooker a yellow card and 10 minutes off the field. It could easily have been red.

"From our point of view, the good thing is that Owen wasn't injured or knocked out, and from a rugby perspective I'm glad (Brits) wasn't sent off, it was just a yellow card, because it would have been less of a workout for us and the rugby as a spectacle," said Gatland.

"One of the things we're going the emphasize very strongly is to make sure we keep our discipline. It's going to be hugely important for us. Sometimes you need to take one for the team, you need to get 'whacked' and you can't retaliate because the consequences of that retaliation can be pretty severe as well."

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Swinging arms aside, there was little of note to get the 28,643 spectators excited about in a slow-paced first half until Irish lock and match-day captain Paul O'Connell lunged over the line for the first try of the Lions tour.

Soon after, Welsh scrumhalf Mike Phillips' darting run from the back of a ruck extended the Lions' lead to 20-3, while Farrell slotted over a last-minute penalty to make the score 23-3 at halftime.

Another Phillips try, touched down with a swallow dive three minutes after the restart and converted by Farrell, killed the match as a contest and put the Lions 30-3 ahead. The tries then came regularly as the game opened up.

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So too did the handling errors, especially for Farrell, who, while dead-eyed with the boot often seemed to have his palms smeared with treacle; what seemed a certain try for the Lions was denied by Barbarians fullback Jared Payne when he swatted the ball out of the path of Sean Maitland from an overhead Farrell pass.

The lone try for the Barbarians -- a breakaway effort after 58 minutes by Kahn Fotuali'i -- was only limited respite from the one-way traffic as the Lions continued to dictate play.

A misplaced pass by the Barbarians in their own 22 later led to a try for Lions center Jonathan Davies before Welsh winger Alex Cuthbert ran in two tries to push the score to 47-8, while his compatriots Dan Lydiate and Alun Wyn-Jones completed the rout.

O'Connell was pleased with the performance from a team that has only had a few weeks to bond.

"You just want to get into it," he said. "We can show guys the video now (from the match) the chats will begin amongst players and the tour really starts and takes off from here. For some of us being in camp for three weeks -- three weeks without a game is a long time, so it's great to get the tour started.

The squad fly to Perth Sunday for their first game against Australian opposition, the Western Force, on Wednesday.

The players said (the ball) was a like a bar of soap with the humidity and the heat.
Warren Gatland

Gatland was content to get his team through their sweltering Hong Kong experience unscathed, and was encouraged by the players' performances.

"Going forward I think these players that have played tonight have laid down a marker and the players that get picked and play against the Force they will know they will have to perform," the New Zealander said.

"Today's performance wasn't about Australia it was about us, and us putting down some foundations in place; the first two or three games are about that.

"We'll start concentrating on looking at the Australian sides more closely than we have because the focus has been getting this first game under our belts, we'll look at the tapes of their recent performances and the buildup to that first Test in Brisbane."

"We're well aware that in Perth the microscope is going to be on us a heck of a lot more than it has been at the moment."

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