Fotuali’i whets appetite of Saints supporters in Lions game

Kahn Fotuali’i whetted the appetite of the Saints faithful as he scored a superb try in the Barbarians’ 59-8 defeat to the Lions on Saturday.

By Tom Vickers
Saturday, 1st June 2013, 3:21 pm
Barbarians' Samu Manoa (right) tackles British and Irish Lions' Richie Gray
Barbarians' Samu Manoa (right) tackles British and Irish Lions' Richie Gray

The Samoan scrum-half, who joins Northampton from Ospreys this summer, came off the bench to score the Baa-baas’ only five-pointer of the game in Hong Kong.

Current Saints star Samu Manoa started the game for the Lions’ opposition, putting in a commanding performance.

And there was also game time for another man who will be stutting his stuff at Franklin’s Gardens next season, George North.

The Wales wing came off the bench to play a key role in Alex Cuthbert’s second try of the game for the Lions.

North’s international team-mate, Mike Phillips inspired the Lions to a comprehensive victory as their 10-game tour began in successful fashion.

Stamina-sapping conditions proved the real winner, though, as humidity levels touched 94 per cent, contributing greatly to both sides struggling for sustained passages of error-free rugby.

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

Fly-half Owen Farrell kicked 15 points, but he had a mixed bag of a game elsewhere, making some poor decisions, with one handling blunder leading directly to a Barbarians try. His replacement Jonathan Sexton added two conversions.

Future Saint Fotuali’i touched down for the Barbarians, and there was also a penalty by Wasps centre Elliot Daly, but they were again crushed following a drubbing by England in last Sunday’s encounter at Twickenham.

The Lions, who struggled to win their first tour match in South Africa four years ago, now head to Australia tomorrow, where far greater challenges await, including three Tests against the Wallabies.

They are on the trail of a first Test series triumph since 1997, and by the time things are up and running Down Under, their Hong Kong excursion will be remembered as little more than the equivalent of a pre-season friendly.

Phillips apart, there were some noticable individual contributions by Wales back-row forwards Justin Tipuric and Toby Faletau, while Scotland pair Richie Gray and Stuart Hogg had their moments.

But with a crowd of just under 29,000 - more than 11,000 short of capacity - struggling to become enthralled by the action, it was a case of job done for the Lions, yet nothing more.

Despite the game’s low-key nature, it exploded into life after just eight minutes following an early Farrell penalty strike.

England number 10 Farrell was again in the mix, but this time on the receiving end of a punch by his Saracens team-mate and Barbarians hooker Schalk Brits.

Referee Steve Walsh initially penalised the Lions after Farrell reacted, but he reversed it on scrutiny of video replays, and Brits was yellow-carded, although fortunate to escape red.

Farrell then missed a penalty while Brits spent time in the cooler, and the game had a low-key feel despite the Lions looking to attack with pace and width.

Daly hauled the Barbarians level through a long-range penalty strike - a prelude to a mid-half water break - before Brits returned.

The Lions moved up a gear during the second quarter, and a sharp break by Phillips almost produced a try before O’Connell dived between a pile of bodies to touch down.

Farrell converted for a 13-3 advantage, and Phillips then sniped his way from 20 metres out, with Farrell again converting.

The Lions were well ahead on the scoreboard without dazzling the crowd or their opponents, but with a powerful bench in reserve, there was considerable potential for a second-half onslaught.

Phillips struck again with four minutes of the restart, easing away from a lineout to cross unopposed, before Farrell landed his sixth successful kick.

The Barbarians were now in damage-limitation mode, especially as the Lions had started to monopolise possession, and Tipuric was stopped just short by a Joe Rokocoko tackle.

Farrell then tried to find a support runner with a one-handed pass, when he could have scored had he gone it alone, but the Baa-baas were hanging on as hooker Tom Youngs, plus props Cian Healy and Matt Stevens, arrived off the bench.

Rokocoko showed his class in attack by shredding the Lions’ defence, and Fotuali’i had a simple task of finishing off his exquisite approach work, although there was no danger of a sustained Barbarians fightback.

Farrell’s poor pass during a Lions attack contributed to the scoring opportunity, and he was replaced shortly afterwards by Sexton, who quickly got in on the act by converting a breakaway try from Davies.

Cuthbert, Wales’ most prolific try-scorer over the past year, then got in on the act with a double in seven minutes, before Lydiate crashed over from close range to take the Lions past 50 points.