In Depth

Lions must find momentum after dismal opening performance

Tourists struggle to beat part-timers of New Zealand's Provincial Barbarians in opening match

The British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand got off to a shaky start on Saturday in Whangarei as they struggled against a Provincial Barbarians side made up of part-timers.

Although the Lions prevailed 13-7, they were woeful at times and many in New Zealand have written off their chances of competing against the mighty All Blacks.

A try for Anthony Watson, converted by Owen Farrell, plus penalties from Greig Laidlaw and Jonny Sexton was all the tourists could manage against a team they were expected to rout.

But while few of the players on show emerged with any credit, they are not entirely to blame

"The Lions' opener gave proof of just one undisputable fact: it is impossible to replicate first-class rugby three days after crossing the globe," says Owen Slot of The Times

Many of them "played like drains", he says. "The inclination on Saturday was to observe, stroke your chin and run a red line through one player after another."

But, he argues, there was no way they could have put in a top-class performance just 72 hours after landing in New Zealand.

"The language of the Lions tells us that it is an honour and a privilege to pull on that red jersey, but if it was handed to you on Saturday to play the Provincial Barbarians, a scratch side made up partly of amateurs, then it was no honour; it was your misfortune," says Slot.

Jetlag may have played a part, but the Lions created plenty of chances to give the scoreboard a healthier complexion. However, they failed to take advantage.

"For all the criticism of the Lions’s opening performance, the result and potentially the performance was undermined by their inability to convert their possession into points, particularly in the first half," points out Gavin Mairs of the Daily Telegraph. "The Lions, despite their lack of dominance, still managed to forge several try-scoring opportunities, but despite a dominant scrummage and a number of five-metre positions failed to cross the line."

And while the Barbarian team was made up of part-timers, several have played at Super Rugby level adds Mairs."Criticisms of the Lions' performance do not do justice to the ferocity and rapidity of the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians." 

But in the wake of that opening performance, coach Warren Gatland has rung the changes for the second match of the tour, against Super Rugby side Auckland Blues, on Wednesday.

"After the sluggish opening effort in Whangarei, the Lions have invited a completely fresh line-up to go out and make an impact against the Blues at Eden Park," says Robert Kitson of The Guardian. "The Welsh hooker Ken Owens will skipper a team containing 11 new Lions, including the Irish centre pairing of Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne and English wingers Elliot Daly and Jack Nowell.

"Daly will become only the second player to play for and against the Lions, having featured for the Barbarians in the tour opener in Hong Kong four year ago."

There is no doubt that the pressure will be on for the starting XV. Their job is to prove that the tourists are worthy of taking on serious New Zealand sides.

"These men have to lift the mood immediately, show that the class of 2017 mean business, not just by the dignified manner in which they have gone about their business off the field, but in the sharp and clever way that they play their rugby," says Mick Cleary of the Telegraph

"If that project fails, then the tour will struggle to the impetus it needs. There is so little room for manoeuvre, so little time to make it happen, that every minute on the field in a Lions' shirt counts. That message needs to be projected loud and clear."

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