The Lions will face both friends and foe when they take on the Barbarians in Hong Kong on June 1.
With the mouthwatering tour opener just three weeks away, Britain and Ireland’s elite now have a clear idea of who they’ll be lining up against at the Hong Kong Stadium.
Barbarians boss Dai Young has named the 22 players who will form the nucleus of his side to face England and the Lions on successive weekends, with a whole host of stellar selections within the group.
The Baa-Baas squad includes three former Lions, plus two more men who played against the Red Army on the 2005 tour of New Zealand.
A further three internationals from the Home Unions will get their crack at the Lions, with two of those considered unfortunate not to be playing for the tourists rather than against them having just missed out on selection for Warren Gatland’s 37-man squad last week.
Welsh trio James Hook, Matthew Rees and Dwayne Peel are the Baa-Baas who have already starred for the Lions, having won five Test caps between them and worn the red jersey on a total of 19 occasions.
Hook made six appearances for the Lions in South Africa last time out, starting twice and coming on as a replacement in four more matches. The fly-half cum centre cum full back scored 35 points and kicked the tourists to narrow victories over both the Free State Cheetahs and Western Province despite missing out on selection for Sir Ian McGeechan’s initial squad and only being added to the party as injury cover for Leigh Halfpenny shortly before departure.
He finished without a Test cap despite his significant contribution but national colleague Rees did head home as a Test Lion, with the Scarlets hooker coming on as a replacement in the first international in Durban and then starting the second and third rubbers in Pretoria and Johannesburg respectively. Rees, who played eight games on tour, formed part of an all-Welsh Lions front row for the first time since 1955 and went one better than fellow Baa-Baa Peel in tasting Test success with the tourists at Coca Cola Park.
Peel missed out on that special feeling when he toured in ‘05, even though he started all three Tests for Sir Clive Woodward’s troops. The then Scarlets and now Sale scrum-half saw off the challenge of Gareth Cooper, Chris Cusiter and Matt Dawson to wear the No9 shirt against the All Blacks in Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland but the Lions lost the series 3-0.
Dwayne Peel was an ever present in the Lions Test team that faced the All Blacks in 2005
Two of Peel’s potential team-mates on June 1 also featured in Lions’ fixtures on that tour of NZ, although both were attempting to plot the Lions’ downfall. Bayonne wing Joe Rokocoko was involved for Auckland in the penultimate tour match, while Harlequins fly-half Nick Evans started for Otago in the fifth fixture.
Evans is expected to be at the heart of the Baa-Baas challenge to the Lions’ hopes of starting their 125th anniversary adventure with a bang and two more players from the Aviva Premiership will be hoping to have a similar impact following the disappointment of being overlooked by Gatland and co.
Gloucester captain Jim Hamilton and Bath prop Paul James both featured for their countries this season, with Hamilton picking up the man-of-the-match award in Scotland’s win over Ireland and James playing his part in all five of Wales’ games on their way to retaining their Championship crown.
The pair were thought to be in the running for a squad spot for what would have been their first Lions adventures but Gatland opted for Ian Evans, Richie Gray, Paul O’Connell and Geoff Parling instead of Hamilton at lock and picked Dan Cole, Cian Healy, Gethin Jenkins, Adam Jones, Matt Stevens and Mako Vunipola ahead of James in the front row.
Jim Hamilton enjoyed an impressive season with Scotland but missed out on Lions selection
Hamilton and Jones will be joined in the Barbarians pack by the likes of Italy captain Sergio Parisse, Springbok flanker Francois Louw, French veteran Imanol Harinordoquy and in-form Italian Alessandro Zanni, as well as former Wales prop Duncan Jones.
Dimitri Yachvili of Biarritz and Kahn Fotuali'I – currently of the Ospreys but soon to be a Northampton Saint – will compete for the scrum-half berth, meaning Mike Phillips could go head-to-head with the man who took over from him at the Liberty Stadium two seasons ago.
Ulster’s Kiwi full back Jared Payne and London Wasps back row Sam Jones are the two uncapped players in the Baa-Baas party, with Young selecting a total of 10 nationalities compared to the four that will feature for the Lions.
Young, who himself toured three times with the Lions across three different decades in 1989, 1997 and 2001, will be adding to his squad prior to the Lions’ departure for Hong Kong, with more star names expected to be announced shortly.
"Our selection process has taken several months and is still not quite complete," said Barbarians team manager Derek Quinnell.
"Over the next week or so we will be monitoring the domestic play-off matches in Europe and the various national squads for the summer tours.
"Also, one or two players in the squad announced may not be available for both of our matches so we expect to add other significant names to the team in the near future."
The Barbarians kick-off their two-match tour against England at Twickenham on May 26 before attempting to spoil the Lions' party a week later.
Backs: Jared Payne (Ulster), Rowan Varty (DeA Tigers & Hong Kong), Takudzwa Ngwenya (Bairritz Olympique & USA), Joe Rokocoko (Bayonne & New Zealand), James Hook (Perpignan & Wales), Nick Evans (Harlequins & New Zealand), Kahn Fotuali'i (Ospreys & Samoa), Dwayne Peel (Sale Sharks & Wales), Dimitri Yachvili (Biarritz Olympique & France)
Forwards: Duncan Jones (Ospreys & Wales), B J Botha (Munster & South Africa), Paul James (Bath Rugby & Wales), Martin Castrogiovanni (Leicester & Italy), Matthew Rees (Scarlets & Wales), Leonardo Ghiraldini (Benetton Treviso & Italy), Marco Wentzel (London Wasps & South Africa), Jim Hamilton (Gloucester Rugby & Scotland), Francois Louw (Bath Rugby & South Africa), Sam Jones (London Wasps), Alessandro Zanni (Benetton Treviso & Italy), Sergio Parisse (Stade Francais & Italy), Imanol Harinordoquy (Biarritz Olympique & France)
Coach: David Young (London Wasps)
Player / assistant coach: Mike Tindall (Gloucester Rugby & England)