Sunday 17 December 2017

POC: Our set-piece was crucial to success

British & Irish Lions' captain Paul O'Connell (C) bleeds during the first half of a friendly match against The Barbarians
British & Irish Lions' captain Paul O'Connell (C) bleeds during the first half of a friendly match against The Barbarians

Paul O'Connell led the British and Irish Lions to a comprehensive 59-8 victory over the Barbarians in Hong Kong before pin-pointing strong work at the set-piece as the cornerstone of their success.

Scrum-half Mike Phillips, the Lions' most consistent performer, scored two tries, while wing Alex Cuthbert also claimed a double and there were further touchdowns for skipper O'Connell, centre Jonathan Davies, flanker Dan Lydiate and substitute Alun-Wyn Jones.

Fly-half Owen Farrell kicked 15 points, but he also made some poor decisions, with one handling blunder leading directly to a Barbarians try. His replacement, Jonathan Sexton, added two conversions.

"I'm delighted to get the win and win really well," O'Connell told Sky Sports 1.

"The [hot and humid] conditions, that was the big worry for everybody, but we wore them down in the first half and the points came fairly easily in the second half.

"Set-piece is such a massive part of the game. If you turn over the line out you get possession back. If you turn over the scrum you get a penalty, three points for 50 metres, so set-piece and the scrum set a massive platform for us today.

"They had nothing to play off really and we had a lot to play off, got a lot of ground and got a lot of points off them."

However, O'Connell refused to read too much into the win in the stamina-sapping conditions as humidity levels touched 94 per cent.

"It's hard to tell," the Ireland forward said when asked how this result sets up the rest of the tour.

"The conditions were very hard. Obviously the Barbarians are a great side but maybe mentally they aren't in the same place as we were so it's very hard to tell. "

Phillips, who was named man of the match following his two tries and sniping runs, believes the win will be a solid platform for the when the action switches to Australia.

"It's a tremendous win," the scrum-half said.

"We just wanted to come out and get a really strong performance and the boys did really well. It was really tough conditions. There were some mistakes but the way we bonded, it's a great start with a great win.

"My skills were very poor and very difficult but all in all it is a platform to work on and we can push on from here.

"There were far better performances from mine out there tonight. The way the boys all worked was outstanding and that's what we're all about. We've put a lot of hard work in already and we're going to keep working hard in training."

Phillips, who also toured with the Lions four years ago, revealed pulling on the shirt for a second tour is no less special.

He said: "You play alongside these world class players and it's very humbling and a massive honour.

"The players that have worn the shirt before you. It's incredible and a dream come true. You have to pinch yourself but keep working hard, keep your head down and do the best you can do."

Lions coach Warren Gatland was satisfied with the opening performance.

"The conditions were very tough and we missed three or four opportunities in the first half. But we kept going. The players said the ball was like a bar of soap, but they kept their composure after a rusty start," he said.

"To kick off like that keeps momentum and puts pressure on those players who were not involved today. That's what you want as a coach. It's a nice platform.

"We went there with the intention of keeping the ball on the park and wanting to play. They didn't have a ruck in our 22 during the entire game. All in all it was a really good start."

Barbarians captain Sergio Parisse hailed the impact of Lions number nine Phillips and believes the touring squad will prosper in Australia.

"Mike Phillips made the difference for them," Parisse said.

"It is disappointing for the rsult. We had a good week together but it is disappointing to finish like that.

"The British and Irish Lions squad can win all of the matches agaisnt Australia because they have the talent."

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