The Lions victory against the Barbarians in stifling conditions had a very Welsh feel to it.
That in itself is not overly surprising, as the majority of the English and Irish contingents were unavailable due to having recently played in their respective domestic finals, meaning that 9 of the starting fifteen were Red Dragons. It was a perfect opportunity for some players to lay down a marker for their selection in the Test team. Several players did just that. Mike Phillips was a constant threat from scrum half and capped a Man of the Match performance with two well taken tries, Jamie Roberts exhibited some of the direct running that had made him Player of the Series on the Lions Tour in 2009 and Adam Jones’ wholesale destruction of a very capable Barbarians front row is hopefully a sign of things to come against the occasionally scrum shy Australians. Elsewhere, players that had been injured for a long period also did their chances of selection no harm at all, Alex Cuthbert demonstrated his finishing prowess and Dan Lydiate has now given the Lions coaching team another option in a cadre of backrow players already brimming with talent and versatility.
The Welsh didn’t have it all their way, even if they provided the scorers for 7 of the 8 Barbarian tries. Paul O’Connell provided a reminder of his leadership and his second row colleague, Richie Gray, had an incredibly positive impact on the team, his work rate in the loose giving the Lions plenty of front foot ball that allowed them to slowly strangle out the star studded Barbarians team. Mako Vunipola was lively at loosehead and showed surprising mobility for a 20 stone juggernaut. Stuart Hogg had a solid game at fullback, but whether he will oust the ever reliable Halfpenny remains to be seen. Jonny Sexton sped everything up when he came on and helped get the Lions backline moving.
Although this was a warm up game, there can be no doubting the talent in the Barbarians team, and the Lions could not have done much more in their first game. Yes, there were handling errors aplenty, though some of that can be attributed to the sweat slicked ball. The Lions can take numerous positives from this, their defence was resolute, the kicking game intelligent and when the chance to show some running rugby came, the tourists were not afraid to risk the passes. With the undeniable talent of players like Halfpenny, O’Driscoll, Tuilagi, Warburton and O’Brien also to be added into the team for some of the future warm up games, the Lions should be able to field a well gelled team in the first Test against Australia, with the physicality and guile to grind out a win.