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British & Irish Lions

British & Irish Lions admit plenty to work on as tour opener serves stark warning for task ahead

Gatland’s men struggle in scrappy 13-7 victory over New Zealand Provincial Barbarians side as countdown to first All Blacks test begins

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 June, 2017, 6:45pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 June, 2017, 12:03am

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

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

Before a sellout 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.

Captain Sam Warburton admitted 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,” he added.

“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.”

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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.

Gatland was reluctant to name names when questioned about who had impressed.

“It was tough on those guys. They were given the responsibility of getting the tour off to a win,” he 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 impact off the bench.”

The last time the Lions were in New Zealand, in a 2005 tour, they were held to 17-all at half-time in their first match against the provincial Bay of Plenty side before pulling away to win 34-20.

This time they found it even harder to secure control.

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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 with Barbarians captain Sam Anderson-Heather driving over for the try and 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 pacy wing Watson but later missed a handy penalty opportunity.