Howley: Lions will thrive with heat on

Hong Kong’s intense heat and humidity may be “hellish”, in Conor Murray’s words, but British & Irish Lions assistant coach Rob Howley believes conditions for the opening game this weekend will stand his players in good stead for the three-Test series with Australia.

Temperatures are forecast to be hovering around 30C for the local evening kick-off time, with humidity at above 80%.

“I played in Japan four years ago for Ireland in the U20s World Cup and we played Uruguay and it was 36 degrees with this kind of humidity,” Murray said yesterday following the team’s first training session on the Chinese island.

“It was hellish really and I was kicking that game and I didn’t think I had the energy for a kick in front of the posts. So it was an experience but we didn’t get the chance to train in it too much.

“So it was good to get out there and get used to it and hopefully we’ll be acclimatised to it by match day.

“Hopefully there’ll be more water breaks during the game because you’d notice day to day taking on a lot more than you usually would. You’ve got to make sure you don’t lose too much weight — there’d be nothing left of me.”

As uncomfortable as the conditions are proving, with cooling fans being deployed from the side of the training pitch yesterday to make them more bearable for the players, Howley believes it will prove beneficial when the tour moves on to Australia.

“That stress in that heat will certainly benefit us when we get to Australia, although the players might not think it,” Howley said. “The more stress they play under on Saturday the better we’ll be prepared for Australia.”

With head coach Warren Gatland scheduled to name his starting 15 and replacements this morning, only captain Sam Warburton, the already ruled out Gethin Jenkins and Dan Lydiate sat out training. “Warby’s taken a slight bump to his knee in training, it’s a bit puffy that’s all,” Howley said, while Lydiate was declared “fine”.

Of the opposition, who named a side showing 11 changes from the side beaten 40-12 by a second-string England side at Twickenham last Sunday, Howley said he expected a much-improved performance now the Baa-Baas had spent more time together.

Munster’s Casey Laulala is one of just four players to keep their jerseys for the Barbarians following their Twickenham embarrassment, with Ulster’s Jared Payne coming in at full-back in a side to be captained by Italy skipper Sergio Parisse.

BARBARIANS (v British & Irish Lions): J Payne (Ulster); J Rockocoko (Bayonne & New Zealand), E Daly (Wasps), C Laulala (Munster & New Zealand), T Ngwenya (Biarritz Olympique & USA); N Evans (Harlequins & New Zealand), D Yachvili (Biarritz Olympique & France); P James (Bath & Wales), S Brits (Saracens & South Africa), M Castrogiovanni (Leicester & Italy); M Wentzel (Wasps & South Africa), D Mumm (Exeter Chiefs & Australia); S Manoa (Northampton & USA), S Jones (Wasps), S Parisse (Stade Francais & Italy) – captain.

Replacements: L Ghiraldini (Benetton Treviso & Italy), D Jones (Ospreys & Wales), A Lo Cicero (Racing Metro & Italy), J Hamilton (Gloucester & Scotland), I Harinordoquy (Biarritz Olympique & France), K Fotuali’i (Ospreys & Samoa), J Hook (Perpignan & Wales), M Tindall (Gloucester & England), R Varty (Hong Kong).

Murray ready to fight for Test shirt

By Simon Lewis, Hong Kong

Conor Murray may have come into this British & Irish Lions squad as a surprise choice to many, but the Ireland No 9 will stake his claim for a Test start feeling he is on a level par with his scrum-half rivals.

Mike Phillips of Wales and England’s Ben Youngs stand between the 24-year-old and the completion of a remarkable rise to the top of his profession, given he was at the Junior World Cup in Japan four years ago with the Ireland U20s when the Lions last toured. And while the smart money is on 2009 Lions scrum-half Phillips getting the nod from head coach Warren Gatland for the Test jersey, Murray has been buoyed by Gatland’s insistence that each of the 37 players on tour has an equal chance of starting against the Wallabies next month.

“When it was announced it was a bit surreal,” Murray said, “and then when you come into camp it becomes very real and you begin training with these players that you’re so used to playing against.

“Being in here it’s really hit home and you don’t forget about how big it is, but your competitive instincts take over and you just want to do as well as you can and try and make the most of your opportunity and get onto that team. That’s why we’re all here. That’s what Warren said when we got in, that everyone in the squad has the potential to start, so you’ve got to take confidence from that and just try your best. It’s just waiting for an opportunity now.”

Of the battle for a Test spot with Youngs and Phillips, with whom he roomed at Carton House last week, Murray said he would stay focused on his own game and do his best to pile the pressure on Gatland come selection time.

“There’s definitely three of us going for it. Mike and Ben are two great players and we’ve a lot of respect for each other.

“I don’t think you can worry too much about them, you’ve just got to concentrate on yourself, wait for your opportunity and play as well as you can and then leave the rest up to Warren.

“I don’t really think about what Ben and Mike are doing. I’m just trying to play my own game and obviously pick up a few good things from all the players.”

The magpie in Murray is also absorbing as much rugby knowledge as he can when he works with Gatland’s assistant coach Rob Howley, the former Wales and Lions scrum-half in 1997 and 2001.

“Rob was obviously a great scrum-half in his day so I’m just keeping an extra eye on him and picking up a few things that he might see in my game. It’s been great so far, working with him and he’s advising me and basically telling me to be myself and play the way I know how.

“Maybe now and again he might come in and change a few things, but at the moment now it’s really good and in the limited time we’ve had together we’ve a good idea of how we want to play and that’s a credit to the coaches and how they’ve put that across to us.”

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CourtsRugbyPlace: Hong KongPlace: JapanPlace: AustraliaPlace: TwickenhamPlace: New ZealandPlace: NewPlace: USAPlace: WalesPlace: EnglandPerson: HowleyPerson: Conor MurrayPerson: Rob HowleyPerson: MurrayPerson: Warren GatlandPerson: Sam WarburtonPerson: Gethin JenkinsPerson: Dan LydiatePerson: WarbyPerson: LydiatePerson: Casey LaulalaPerson: Jared PaynePerson: Sergio ParissePerson: J PaynePerson: J RockocokoPerson: E DalyPerson: C LaulalaPerson: T NgwenyaPerson: N EvansPerson: D YachviliPerson: P JamesPerson: S BritsPerson: M CastrogiovanniPerson: M WentzelPerson: D MummPerson: S ManoaPerson: S JonesPerson: S ParissePerson: L GhiraldiniPerson: D JonesPerson: A Lo CiceroPerson: J HamiltonPerson: I HarinordoquyPerson: K Fotuali’iPerson: J HookPerson: M TindallPerson: R VartyPerson: Simon LewisPerson: Mike PhillipsPerson: Ben YoungsPerson: PhillipsPerson: GatlandEvent: U20s World CupEvent: Junior World CupOrganisation: LionsOrganisation: British & Irish LionsOrganisation: AustraliaOrganisation: UruguayOrganisation: EnglandOrganisation: MunsterOrganisation: BarbariansOrganisation: UlsterOrganisation: ItalyOrganisation: WaspsOrganisation: ZealandOrganisation: Biarritz OlympiqueOrganisation: HarlequinsOrganisation: New ZealandOrganisation: SaracensOrganisation: South AfricaOrganisation: LeicesterOrganisation: Exeter ChiefsOrganisation: NorthamptonOrganisation: Stade FrancaisOrganisation: Benetton TrevisoOrganisation: Ospreys & WalesOrganisation: Racing MetroOrganisation: GloucesterOrganisation: FranceOrganisation: OspreysOrganisation: PerpignanOrganisation: HongOrganisation: IrelandOrganisation: Ireland U20sOrganisation: Wallabies
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