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NZ Provincial Barbarians 7 – British & Irish Lions 13

Ross Moriarty

The British & Irish Lions kicked off their campaign with a stuttering win 7-13 against a committed New Zealand Provincial Barbarians side in Whangarei.

The result reflected a difficult opening start for the Lions with the only try highlight a score in the corner from Anthony Watson in the second half.

The Barbarians started brightly with a ten minute opening spell of possession where the Lions didn’t see the ball at all.  A few Barbarian moves petered out into nothing, but the tone and been set for a difficult encounter for the Lions.

The first moment of note for the Lions was actually in defence when Taulupe Faletau pulled off a sublime tackle holding the man and ball up over the tryline with the Barbarians looking certain to score.

That set the tone for a period of attacking play for the Lions with Ben Te’o in particular making some good line breaks, but each time the move ended without the finishing touch as the Lions combinations clearly haven’t had time to bed in.

Other bright moments came from debut prop Kyle Sinckler and again from Faletau who looked the most at home in the famous red shirt.

It was the Barbarians who scored the first try of the match from a move begun by Bryn Gatland’s up and under causing confusion in the Lions defence.  Captain Sam Anderson-Heather pounced on the opportunity to drive through the Lions defence to score by the posts.  The hosts took that lead into the half time break.

The second half started in similar fashion with both sides a little ragged and it was the introduction of the Lions replacements on the 50 minute mark that made the key difference.  Johnny Sexton went off to be replaced by Owen Farrell and the difference in go forward ball for the Lions was immediate.

Farrell put in an up and under of his own which caused problems in the Barbarians defence, but this time did not result in a try.  His next contribution was to assist the only try for the Lions with a flat pass putting Watson over the line in the corner.  Farrell converted.

The additional replacements made their mark on the match with George Kruis taking command of the line out and maul, and Rhys Webb sniping effectively around the scrum.

The Barbarians showed excellent character and looked in with a chance to win it near the death with a rolling maul trundling towards the Lions line before replacement prop Mako Vunipola made a vital steal to halt the Baa Baas shove.  The resulting scrum gave the Lions a penalty and the referee below the final whistle a few seconds early.

Warren Gatland said “We got held up over the line four times, but we just had a little bit of inaccuracy.  We only arrived on Wednesday and it’ll take a little time to acclimatise. We had some good energy coming off the bench and that was important for us.”

“Ross Moriarty made some good carries and Ben Te’o showed some good footwork, Anthony Watson could have ended up with two or three tries. A win is a win and we could have ended up with more tries.”

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