Relief for Lions as Barbarians provide stern opening test
The British and Irish Lions escaped with a 13-7 victory from their opening match of the tour to New Zealand as the Provincial Barbarians proved unexpectedly testing opponents.
Warren Gatland’s side had been expected to record a comfortable victory over the Barbarians – a team consisting mostly of semi-professional players, with a smattering of Super Rugby experience.
However, the Lions – who only arrived in New Zealand on Wednesday – struggled throughout and went in at half-time trailing 7-3.
An Anthony Watson try after the interval spared the Lions’ blushes, but Gatland will know time is of the essence when it comes to finding form on a tour that sees the matches come thick and fast.
— British&Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) June 3, 2017
Much of the early action took place in the Lions half as the tourists struggled to get their hands on the ball, before Jonathan Sexton fired wide with his first chance to get points on the board after 10 minutes.
The Irish fly-half atoned for that miss by sending over a second attempt seven minutes later, although the Lions’ preference to go for goal was proving unpopular with a home crowd, who made their feelings clear.
The Barbarians then gave Gatland’s men a scare when Luteru Laulala broke clear and offloaded to Kaveinga Finau, only for Taulupe Faletau to haul the centre to the ground with a tremendous try-saving tackle.
But the Barbarians did score the opening try of the match after 23 minutes, with Sam Anderson-Heather powering over before Bryn Gatland – son of Lions coach Warren – added the extras.
Stuart Hogg’s poor pass to Watson squandered a promising chance for the Lions just short of the half-hour mark, before the Scotland full-back was himself held up on the line after linking well with Ben Te’o.
A frustrating first half for the Lions ended with Jonathan Joseph being prevented from grounding the ball, sending the Barbarians in at the break with a surprise advantage.
Greig Laidlaw assumed kicking duties as Sexton received treatment shortly after the interval and brought the Lions within a point, before the number 10 made way for Owen Farrell as one of a raft of second-half changes.
The breakthrough finally arrived via Watson in the 52nd minute – the England wing side-stepped and spun his way through a couple of tackles to touch down.
Farrell, who was heavily involved in the build-up to Watson’s score, added the conversion, but found the left-hand upright with a subsequent penalty as the Lions continued to toil.
The Barbarians were unable to add to their first-half try, but forthcoming matches against the Blues, Crusaders and Highlanders look daunting for the Lions after making hard work of their opener.
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