British & Irish Lions torn to shreds by New Zealand pundits after tour opener as attentions turn to home
Warren Gatland’s side officially welcomed a day after 13-7 victory over the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians
The British & Irish Lions were officially welcomed to New Zealand on Sunday, but their thoughts were quickly dragged back to Europe after news of the deadly terror attack in London filtered through.
The Lions arrived in New Zealand on Wednesday and scraped to a 13-7 victory over a team made up of semi-professional and amateur players in Whangarei on Saturday before heading north to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds for an official welcome ceremony.
More than 400 people from the local Ngapuhi tribe performed the powhiri welcome for the squad near where the British and local Maori chiefs signed the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand’s foundation document.
“This is the third occasion I’ve been to New Zealand and I’ve had a few official welcomes, but that was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before,” Lions captain Sam Warburton told the New Zealand Herald.
“It was fantastic. I think all of the players ... have probably realised it’s going to be one of the best experiences they’ve had outside of their rugby careers.”
The side learned shortly after their arrival of the attack in London, where militants drove a van into pedestrians before stabbing several others.
Six people were killed and more than 30 injured, while police shot the three attackers dead.
“In future performances and wins, we’ll dedicate to those who have been involved,” Warburton added.
“And I guess we can play a small part in trying to cheer a majority of the nation up by trying to be successful over here.
“We’ll commit our performances and all our efforts to those involved recently in London.”
— British&Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) June 3, 2017
Lions coach Warren Gatland said after the game against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians that several members of his side were still dealing with jet lag, and lacked cohesion due to a disrupted buildup before they left Britain.
However, former All Blacks prop Richard Loe, a provincial and international teammate of Gatland, wrote in his New Zealand Herald column on Sunday that the Lions could not hide behind excuses after their poor performance.
“The Lions and their management must do some immediate temple massaging after scraping home against the Baabaas,” Loe wrote. “There will be apologists, but that was horrible and they’d better get their act together. That was pathetic.”
Rugby writer and sports historian Phil Gifford was similarly scathing in his column in the Sunday Star Times.
Our thoughts and deepest sympathies go out to those affected back home by the tragic events in London. pic.twitter.com/jNjpQ7vJYy
— British&Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) June 4, 2017
“In blunt terms the Lions looked incompetent,” Gifford wrote. “How could a team stacked with nothing but internationals for so long look so leaden footed, so lacking in confidence they took kicks at goal instead of looking for tries from a lineout, so lacking in co-ordination and attacking ideas?”
New Zealand Herald rugby journalist Gregor Paul was a little more circumspect, refusing to consign the tour to the dustheap after just one match.
However, he said the pace of the game in New Zealand could prove decisive, with a massive step up needed for the clash on Wednesday against Super Rugby’s Auckland Blues.
“The real issue was that the Lions looked decidedly pedestrian in all that they did,” Paul wrote. “The Lions struggled with the pace of the game – not so much physically, but mentally.
“They didn’t have the natural instincts to pounce on opportunities when they came.
“When the opposition become highly motivated Super Rugby teams, the opportunities for the Lions will have an even shorter shelf-life and the reaction times have to be phenomenally good to see, react and expose.”