The Lions made hard work of their first match on tour, against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians.
The Lions tour is officially underway, with the visitors turning in an error-strewn and frustrating display as they chugged to a close win over the Provincial Barbarians. Their hosts are a largely semi-pro side that can boast a trainee nurse and sheep farmer among their ranks. The Lions will want to re-focus right away on their next game, against the Auckland Blues who will be fielding their All Blacks next week.
The Lions trailed at half-time 7-6, with Warren Gatland’s son, Bryn, pulling the strings from fly-half and frustrating the Lions with his array of kicking skills. Opposite him, Johnny Sexton struggled to control his side while elsewhere tackles fell off and countless passes were put behind attackers.
The Lions kept at it in the second half though, nudging their way ahead thanks to an Anthony Watson try and then they crunched on. It never looked comfortable but they saw it out. They only arrived on Wednesday and are clearly still feeling the effects of their trip, but the show moves on.
Below are the players who managed to stand out from the crowd and the key talking points.
Which Lions caught the eye?
Taulupe Faletau – With the try-line begging for the Barbarians, Faletau managed to make an incredible tackle on the slide that turned into him holding the ball up over the line. While others lost their heads around him, he kept his. And his defensive decision-making is so impressive.
Kyle Sinckler – The big fella can shift and he can give and take at pace. Time and again he put his hands up to take ball on. A confident showing.
Ben Te’o – There is no second-guessing with Te’o: he takes the ball to the line hard. Once his team-mates learn how he runs and how he shifts at the gainline, he will become a consistent offloading option.
A win’s a win and all that – Are Lions openers cursed to forever underwhelm? Well at no point was it pretty, but it was a win. This match won’t go down as a classic, but it pointed to plenty of points to work on for the Lions. And there’s little time to dwell on things.
The weather – Okay, it wasn’t literally hot, but the rain held off. There had been torrential downpours through Friday and at the start of Saturday morning, so to have a dry night was a big plus. Particularly for those sitting on the banks of the hill on one side of the Toll Stadium.
First match jitters – From Iain Henderson missing kick-off receptions to Alun Wyn Jones going offside and Stuart Hogg butchering a two-on-one, it was a first half to forget for Lions fans. So many chances went begging for the Lions. The second half wasn’t much better, with the team with so much Test experience struggling to boss proceedings. Some of it will come down to rust and jet-lag still, of course, but they need to kick things up a gear from this point.
Booing the kicker – It’s par for the course in New Zealand, but with Sexton lining up the first kick of the series, boos rang out. Passion you can understand, but it’s not like this crowd are all dyed in the wool Provincial Baa-Baas fanatics. Let both sides crack on during this series.
54% – The Baa-Baas possession stats. They consistently broke the Lions.
11 – The Lions penalty count, which may not sound like much, but will still be frustrating. Particularly from a defensive point of view.
4 – The number of times the Lions got over the line but couldn’t touch down.
NZ Provincial Barbarians: Luteru Laulala; Sam Vaka, Inga Finau (Jonah Lowe 19), Dwayne Sweeney, Sevu Reece; Bryn Gatland (Joe Webber 58), Jack Stratton (Richard Judd 57); Aidan Ross (Tolu Fahamokioa 45), Sam Anderson-Heather (capt) (Andrew Makalio 45), Oliver Jager (Marcel Renata 61), Josh Goodhue, Keepa Mewett (Peter Rowe 61), James Tucker, Lachlan Boshier (Matt Matich 46), Mitchell Dunshea.
Tries: Sam Anderson-Heather. Cons: Gatland.
British & Irish Lions: Stuart Hogg; Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph, Ben Te’o, Tommy Seymour; Johnny Sexton (Owen Farrell 48), Greig Laidlaw (Rhys Webb 58); Joe Marler (Mako Vunipola 49), Rory Best (Jamie George 49), Kyle Sinckler (Tadhg Furlong 49), Alun Wyn Jones, Iain Henderson (George Kruis 49), Ross Moriarty, Sam Warburton (capt) (Justin Tipuric 66), Taulupe Faletau.
Replacements: Elliot Daly.
Tries: Watson. Cons: Farrell. Pens: Sexton, Laidlaw.