CHRIS KIRWAN SAYS: Barbarians must be a proper test for Lions
10:00am Thursday 30th May 2013 in Sport
IT WON’T just be Warren Gatland that has his fingers crossed for a strong Barbarians showing on Saturday.
After a fortnight of disrupted preparation the British and Irish Lions boss will be desperate for his side to enjoy a proper hit out this weekend.
A tough encounter against the Baa-Baas in Hong Kong would do just the trick before the Lions land on Australian shores.
They want to be tested and pushed rather than enjoy a glorified training session while getting their numerous sponsors on television.
In 2005 the Lions went up against Argentina in Cardiff and scraped a draw thanks to a late Jonny Wilkinson kick. They will want to be more convincing than that evening at the Millennium Stadium but another stern test is required.
Players will talk about setting the tone and staking their claims for Test starts while us spectators will look for an early glimpse of what Gatland’s team will be like come June 22.
It would come as some surprise if they are not abrasive, direct, physical and no frills – just as Wales have been under the Kiwi – and that is a style that should do for the Barbarians.
But hopefully it won’t be tedious fare, as their game against a young England side was last weekend.
The Barbarians represent something special; unpredictable rugby that is not straight from a playbook.
Yet flinging a side together is tough in the modern age, as was shown at Twickenham when an inexperienced home side eased to an uninspiring 40-12 win.
The names looked impressive enough – Imanol Harinodoquy, James Hook, Casey Laulala, James Johnston – but the performance was woeful and did little whet the appetite for Saturday’s clash against far stronger opposition.
“We all felt a little bit let down last weekend,' said coach Dai Young.
“We didn’t play anything like how we expected to play and we know we have to be a lot better.
“The preparation has been a lot better for this game and the players themselves realised that they have to step up this week.”
Hence the players have stayed off the booze this week, something that traditionally plays a big part in the invitational side’s bonding.
Both the Lions and Barbarians have suffered in the age of meticulous preparation.
Gatland has had the bulk of his players since May 13 and doesn’t have a Test for three weeks yet still there are complaints about the squad having to play catch-up.
But the Lions are much further down the road than the Barbarians, who have at least named a much stronger side than the one that wilted in the Twickenham sun.
Baa-Baas encounters no longer quite capture the imagination like they used to but this is a chance to breathe life into a terrific ‘brand’.
On the list of Barbarians results there are some notable recent wins such as their 2009 success against the All Blacks and 2010 victory against the Springboks.
But there are also some calamities like a 60-11 drubbing by the Wallabies in 2011 and 57-26 loss to England last year.
The sponsors and PR folk might not care a jot but another Baa-Baas humbling would be a disaster this weekend, both for them and the Lions.
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