Lions tour: Lions claim first win of the tour but not without a fight

  • 03/06/2017

The British and Irish Lions have begun their 10-match tour of New Zealand with a win, but there'll be little celebration from coach Warren Gatland and his squad as they struggled to a 13-7 victory over the Provincial Barbarians.

The local selection, made up of unheralded players, showed far more cohesion and overall desire than the tourists, who looked nervous and disjointed in almost every area of the game apart from a predictable solid scrum.

Second-five Ben Te'o was one of the few Lions to showcase his skills with a strong running game and several one-handed pop passes, and could be the man to fill the number 12 jersey for the test matches.

The back-three for the Provincial Barbarians were impressive, particularly fullback Luteru Laulala and left-winger Sevu Reece, while Northland lock Josh Goodhue was also outstanding.

It was a nervous beginning for Warren Gatland's team and a sign of things to come, missing the kick-off reception as Provincial Barbarians dominated possession for the opening five minutes of the match.

Sam Anderson-Heather
Sam Anderson-Heather burrows over for a try (Photosport)

The local selection earned a couple of penalties and kicked for the sideline rather than take the points, as Barbarians tradition would demand, but weren't able to drive over the line as the Lions defense initially held strong.

First-five Johnny Sexton, whose attacking gameplay was off the mark both with the boot and ball in hand, finally got the scoreboard ticking after 17 minutes with an easy penalty, much to the displeasure of the 19,591 crowd who wanted the tourists to play in the same spirit as the home team.

Baa Baa's first-five Bryn Gatland troubled the Lions with his attacking kicks, and it was a bomb on the Lions 22 metre line which led to the first try of the game to captain Sam Anderson-Heather who barged over the line to the delight of the fans.

"Is this the worst Lions team ever?!" yelled a heckling fan, and judging by the first 40 minutes he wasn’t far off the mark as the tourists trailed 7-3 at halftime after butchering several attacking raids with inaccurate passing and a lack of patience from close-range forward drives against an extremely committed opposition.

The Lions again drew the ire of the home fans as the opted to kick another penalty to begin the second-half as halfback Greig Laidlaw took over the kicking duties to close the gap to 7-6.

Reserve Provincial Barbarians hooker Andrew Makalio showed just how human their highly-vaunted opposition were as he collected Welsh centurion Alan Wyn-Jones in a bone-crunching tackle.

The Provincial Barbarians muscled the Lions at times (Photosport)
The Provincial Barbarians muscled the Lions at times (Photosport)

England playmaker Owen Farrell came on as Gatland rung the changes at the 50 minute mark and instantly looked more capable than Sexton, setting up winger Anthony Watson for their first try of the tour which was long overdue as the Lions went ahead 13-7.

Farrell missed a penalty from almost right in front to put the game out of reach, as the Provincial Barbarians threw everything at the Lions in the dying stages, but to no avail.

Gatland had given several frontline players a chance in the first match of the tour including hooker Rory Best, fullback Stuart Hogg, centre Jonathan Joseph, and captain Sam Warburton.

He may have to rethink who his potential test players will be after this limp first-up display or write-off the performance as a rusty effort after arriving in the country just three days ago.