British & Irish Lions have ‘plenty to work on’ after scrappy tour opening win

The British & Irish Lions have “plenty to work on” after a scrappy New Zealand tour opener where they struggled to a 13-7 win over a Provincial Barbarians side on Saturday.

Rhys Webb makes a break during the British & Irish Lions tour match against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians. David Rogers / Getty Images
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The British & Irish Lions have “plenty to work on” after a scrappy New Zealand tour opener where they struggled to a 13-7 win over a Provincial Barbarians side on Saturday.

Lions coach Warren Gatland described the performance as “not quite accurate in some really critical moments”.

Before a sell-out crowd of 20,000 at Toll Stadium in Whangarei, it was the Barbarians, a side of relatively unknown New Zealand provincial players, who set the standard for most of the game.

Lions captain Sam Warburton said the Barbarians had exposed areas the Lions needed to address in the countdown to the first Test against the All Blacks on June 21.

“We’ve got plenty of footage now to work on,” Warburton said as he reeled off a litany of problem areas. “Some defensive things, improve our attack organisation.


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“They stretched us a bit, we gave away a few penalties, a few too many at the end and let them back in with some territory and better teams are going to punish us a bit there further down the line.

“We needed to win a few more defensive collisions, we want to pride ourselves on defence ... and on attack ball retention. That’s what wins Test matches.”

Tour openers are always a concern for a Lions side with limited preparation and travel fatigue resulting in a lack of polish making points hard to come by.

For Gatland, who has promised all his players a start over the first three games, the opening match would not have answered many questions about the shape of his first Test line-up.

There was only one successful penalty by Johnny Sexton in the first half as the Lions trailed 7-3 at the turn, and it took 52 minutes before Anthony Watson scored their first try.

“It was tough on those guys. They were given the responsibility of getting the tour off to a win,” Gatland said. “They needed to be a bit more clinical in terms of finishing off the chances that we created. There was some good ball carrying out there (and) some effect off the bench.”

In a brief foray into enemy territory, after 16 minutes of play, the Lions put the first points of their tour on the board with Sexton’s close range penalty.

But it was a short-lived lead as the Barbarians relished the counter-attacking opportunities offered by the Lions kicking away possession, often the result of a lack of harmony between the halves Greg Laidlaw and Sexton.

The home side fired back with a Luteru Laulala break that took an exceptional tackle by Taulupe Faletau to prevent a try,

A few minutes later the constant pressure told when Barbarians captain Sam Anderson-Heather drove over for the try to Bryn Gatland, a son of the Warren Gatland, added the extra two points.

The first half ended with the Lions opting for a scrum instead of an easy penalty shot at goal in front of the posts but their drive for a try evaporated when outside centre Jonathan Joseph was held up over the line.

Laidlaw took over the Lions kicking duties after the break and narrowed the gap to one point with a handy penalty.

Tellingly, Sexton was replaced soon after by Owen Farrell who converted the Lions try by pacey wing Watson but later missed a handy penalty opportunity.

* Agence France-Presse

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