Barbarians steal Lions' thunder in Whangarei

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Lynn McConnell     03 Jun 2017     Getty Images

Lacking attacking fluidity, or a means of combating what was little more than a side with determined defence and dynamic attitude, the Lions struggled with the basic intent of a scratch team who didn't know each other a week ago.


By their very composition the home side offered spirit without finesse in their attempts to string together attacking play but the Lions were able to offer strong defence. They needed to.

That was vital because it is from that base they will have to confront the tough task ahead of them against better equipped New Zealand franchise sides, not the least being the Crusaders on Saturday.

The Lions were left with plenty of thinking to do. Sexton missed an early shot at goal and in the second half ceded the kicking to halfback Greig Laidlaw while in another instance prop Kyle Sinckler grabbed the ball at a penalty, took the tap and then lost the ball at the first breakdown.

Their scrum failed to dominate while the home side stood their own in the lineouts. They were also vulnerable against the Provincial Barbarians rolling maul. And in clutch situations they conceded too many penalties. Not all of that could be blamed on jet lag.

The Lions had been told, among the various offerings of advice from their countrymen about how to beat the All Blacks, to do something they didn't expect.

But it was the Barbarians who took that message when, after a highly-promising start which saw centre Inga Finau held up over the line after a superb break by fullback Luteru Laulala, first five-eighths Bryn Gatland launched an old-fashioned Garryowen into the Lions goal-mouth.
In the scramble for the ball the Barbarians tidied the ball and from the breakdown it was captain and hooker Sam Anderson-Heather who put his head down and charged over the line for the tour's opening try.

Unfortunately, for Finau the move was his last in the game as he left with a bad wrist injury. He had been taken in an all-embracing tackle by Lions No.8 Taulupe Faletau, who did a great job to get back and deny the Barbarians their initial chance.

But after the resumption the Lions blew a chance of their own when right wing Anthony Watson wasn't able to hold a pass from fullback Stuart Hogg in the corner and the Barbarians were able to clear.

Hogg had his own chance on the opposite flank soon after but wasn't able to get the ball down and a five-metre scrum was called. But the chance was lost when obstruction was called as the Lions got close to scoring.

They camped on the Barbarians' line for the last 10 minutes of the first half but dynamic defence from the home side denied the Lions who had plenty of ball but were unable to find the gaps to get through.

Faletau was a powerful runner, making several good strikes, especially down the blindside of scrums and rucks while in mid-field Ben Te'o was more than a handful and proved hard to stop. Flanker Ross Moriarty was another of the tourists to impress with some impressive work

However, the lead at half-time to the home side was more than deserving.

Pressure finally told on the home team which, by virtue of its make-up starting making substitutions which may have upset combinations. That told in the 51st minute when a Moriarty burst set up a ruck which provided an assured chance which Watson finally secured on the right wing.

The Barbarians pack impressed with Lachlan Boshier, James Tucker and Mitchell Dunshea an impressive combination in the loose while locks Josh Goodhue and Keepa Mewett were hard to handle with the ball in hand.

It proved a thorough work-out for the Lions who have been left with plenty to ponder in the weeks ahead.

Scorers: NZ Provincial Barbarians 7 ( Sam Anderson-Heather tries; Bryn Gatland con ) British & Irish Lions 13 (Anthony Watson tries; Jonathan Sexton pen; Greig Laidlaw pen; Owen Farrel con ). HT: 7-3