Frequently sportspeople or teams are in a no win situation, and the British and Irish Lions found themselves in such a position against the Barbarians in their opening tour game in Hong Kong. Had they lost the Tour would have been destined for failure. Had they won by a small margin question marks would have cropped up as to the team gelling in time for the first test. As it was, in stifling conditions where the humidity was 80% they won comfortably and there were a great many positives to come out of the game and some key players stepped up and strengthened their push for a starting berth in the first test.
The question that has to be asked however is why this game took place at all? They players safety was most definitely put at risk playing in such stifling conditions and the game was hardly ideal preparation for the tour ahead. As usual it came down to money.
HSBC is the official sponsor of the British and Irish Lions in 2013, and they asked the Australian Rugby Union if one of the tour matches could be played in their home town, Hong Kong on the way to Australia. Another sponsor Jeep saw this as the ideal opportunity to launch their new car in the Asian market.
There is nothing wrong with playing rugby in Hong Kong, but to play at this time of year was crazy. Players were dropping 5-8kgs at training and hydration was a huge issue. With a massive tour starting days after such a game this seems foolhardy preparation.
If it was about growing the game in this region it was strange that Rowan Varty, the first player from Hong Kong ever called up to represent the Barbarians, wasn’t selected in the final 23-man squad and missed out on playing in his hometown. With the game not sold out one would have felt that Varty’s presence would have brought in a few thousand more fans.
It would appear that this game had little to do with rugby, the promotion of the game, or player preparation, but everything to do with appeasing a sponsor. Any sports fan understands that the game at the highest level can no longer survive without sponsors, but on this occasion the feeling is that the gesture went too far.