Sam Warburton injury has Lions sweating ahead of Barbarians clash

A combination of energy-sapping humidity and a knee injury to their captain, Sam Warburton, has made for a sobering start to the brief Asian leg of the British and Irish Lions tour, even before the Barbarians announced their intention to avoid alcohol in their buildup to Saturday's opening fixture.

With training conducted in temperatures of 32C and humidity of around 85%, cooling fans had to be employed at pitchside, with similar conditions forecast for the weekend. One or two prop forwards will already be perspiring at the mere thought but it seems Warburton, the tour captain, will not be involved after suffering a pre-departure knock in Dublin.

Rob Howley, the assistant coach, insisted that the Welsh flanker was not a long-term concern but Paul O'Connell, the tour captain in South Africa in 2009, is now likely to lead the team in his place.

"Sam had a slight bump in training last week and we will assess it over the next 24 hours," said Howley. "The knee's just a bit puffy, that's all." It now appears likely that his Welsh back-row colleagues Justin Tipuric, Toby Faletau and Dan Lydiate will all be involved in a side with a strong Welsh emphasis. "There is a lot of strength in depth within the 37 players and the quality we have in the back row is there for all to see," stressed Howley.

On this tour, even so, there is scant time available for recovery. Everyone else was fit to train apart from Gethin Jenkins and Rob Kearney but matchday conditions are set to be unforgiving. "I'm glad I'm not playing!" admitted Howley. "We talk about stress and the heat here is a big part of that. This session was only 62 minutes but we had three or four water breaks."

The Lions management hope the warm-weather work will end up helping their players in the longer term. "We will reap the benefit of this, even if the players don't feel like that at the time," said Howley. "As far as we're concerned, the more stress we're under, the better prepared we will be. It will be good for us."

The coaches, either way, will also be praying that the Barbarians do not flatten too many opponents in their desire to make up for their 40-12 defeat to England at Twickenham. Northampton's Samu Manoa and Italy's Sergio Parisse will form two-thirds of the invitation side's back row, with Martin Castrogiovanni and Schalk Brits adding their experience to a XV which also boasts Nick Evans and Dimitri Yachvili at half-back. In contrast to last week, preparation is also likely to be more professional after the squad decided to ban excessive pre-match drinking.

"The players have put a ban on themselves really," explained the team manager, Derek Quinnell. "We went out last night for an hour with Carlsberg and I think they were under the impression a few pints would be sunk but about 90% were drinking Coke. They know last weekend wasn't good enough and it was a kick up the backside for us. They are more focused this week. The players know that if they don't look after their bodies in this sort of heat, they've got a problem coming."

The Barbarians will also have to contend with a number of Lions players eager to take an early chance to press their Test claims. "The thing about being a Lions player is that you don't get many opportunities before that first Test, so when the chance comes you have to hit the ground running," said Howley. "The Lions is the pinnacle of your career. We call it the SAS of rugby – it's the best of the best, and that is what we have to deliver on Saturday. We want to put down a marker to show what the 2013 Lions are all about. It is an important game for us."

It may not, however, be watched by a packed stadium, with over a third of the tickets for the 40,000-capacity ground currently unsold. High ticket prices, ranging from £62.50 to £107.50, appear to be the major issue.


Payne (Ulster); Rokocoko (Bayonne & N Zealand), Daly (Wasps), Laulala (Munster & N Zealand), Ngwenya (Biarritz & USA); Evans (Harlequins & N Zealand), Yachvili (Biarritz & France); James (Bath & Wales), Brits (Saracens & S Africa), Castrogiovanni (Leicester & Italy), Wentzel (Wasps & S Africa), Mumm (Exeter & Australia), Manoa (Northampton & USA), S Jones (London Wasps), Parisse (Stade Français & Italy, captain)

Replacements Ghiraldini (Benetton Treviso & Italy), D Jones (Ospreys & Wales), Lo Cicero (Racing Métro & Italy), Hamilton (Gloucester & Scotland), Harinordoquy (Biarritz & France), Fotuali'i (Ospreys & Samoa), Hook (Perpignan & Wales), Tindall (Gloucester & England)

Powered by article was written by Robert Kitson in Hong Kong, for The Guardian on Wednesday 29th May 2013 22.00 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


image: © National Assembly For Wales / Cynulliad Cymru