The British & Irish Lions began their tour with an unimpressive 13-7 win over a spirited New Zealand Provincial Barbarians side in Whangerai on Saturday. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The Lions have plenty to rectify ahead of their next match against the Blues on Wednesday. The performance against the Barbarians lacked both intensity and accuracy. In the end, they were fortunate to escape with a win.
The tourists may write this performance off to travel fatigue. They might say that the game in Whangerai was their first outing as a team, and that mistakes were inevitable.
The counter-argument, of course, is that the Barbarians fielded a makeshift side with few players of Super Rugby standard. It was somewhat surprising to see the Barbarians outmuscling the more fancied Test stars at the breakdowns and breaching the defence.
Bryn Gatland, the Blues flyhalf and son of the Lions head coach, had a big game. A high kick by Gatland forced a mistake by the Lions back three, and the Barbarians scored from the subsequent phase. At half-time, the hosts led 7-3.
The Lions hit back after half-time through a penalty by Greig Laidlaw. The visitors started to build some momentum after Anthony Watson crossed for a try in the 52nd minute,
Owen Farrell had the opportunity to land a penalty and put the Lions nine points clear of the Barbarians in the 66th minute. The attempt hit the upright. It marked the second missed attempt of the evening, following Johnny Sexton's failure in the first half.
The Barbarians continued to trouble the Lions at the collisions in the final stages. And when Alun Wyn Jones impeded at the lineout in the 79th minute, the hosts kicked to touch to set up a lineout on the Lions' 22m line.
Maku Vunipola made a crucial turnover at the ensuing maul, though, to curb the Barbarians' momentum and deny them one final chance of securing a famous victory.
NZ Provincial Barbarians – Try: Sam Anderson-Heather. Conversion: Bryn Gatland.
Lions – Try: Antony Watson. Conversion: Owen Farrell. Penalties: Johnny Sexton, Greig Laidlaw
NZ Provincial Barbarians – 15 Luteru Laulala, 14 Sam Vaka, 13 Inga Finau, 12 Dwayne Sweeney, 11 Sevu Reece, 10 Bryn Gatland, 9 Jack Stratton, 8 Mitchell Dunshea, 7 Lachlan Boshier, 6 James Tucker, 5 Keepa Mewett, 4 Josh Goodhue, 3 Oliver Jager, 2 Sam Anderson-Heather (c), 1 Aidan Ross.
Subs: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Tolu Fahamokoia, 18 Marcel Renata, 19 Matt Matich, 20 Peter Rowe, 21 Richard Judd, 22 Jonah Lowe, 23 Junior Ngaluafe.
Lions – 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Tommy Seymour, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Ross Moriarty, 5 Iain Henderson, 4 Alun Wyn Jones, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Rory Best, 1 Joe Marler.
Subs: 16 Jamie George, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Tadgh Furlong, 19 George Kruis, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 Elliot Daly.
Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images