Well, the 2017 Lions have won their opening fixture in New Zealand but it was a close run thing. The New Zealand Provincial Barbarians actually were leading into the second half, before winger Anthony Watson scored the winning try, the match finished 13-7 in the Lions’ favour.
The Lions should have laid down a marker. Their first game in New Zealand, the start of the most gruelling itinerary in their history, a chance to show everyone what they are capable of and for players to stake a claim for the test jerseys.
Instead, it was a stuttering performance where the majority of the great play came from the opposition. The Barbarians were keen to follow the tradition of running rugby which may have cost them the win, running penalties instead of kicking them.
Bryn Gatland was my man of the match, marshalling the side well from out-half. He was much better then his illustrious counterparts. Jonny Sexton failed to get a command on the game, with passes going awry and poor kicking. Owen Farrell wasn’t much better when he replaced him.
(Warren is probably wishing his son qualified for the Lions after the display and no doubt the young man will be getting many offers to play in Europe).
Toby Falatue was one of the few Lions to impress, putting in crunching tackles, especially a miraculous try-saving effort. Watson did well to score the try, but so many around failed to rise to the occasion.
Jet lag was a factor in their performances, as the players only arrived in the country 3 days ago. Still, the pride of British and Irish rugby should have put in a better performance against a scratch side of part timers.
The 2001 Lions played a similar sort of team, albeit in Australia, and won the game, 116-10. Things were always going to be tougher in New Zealand, but if the Lions struggled against what should be by far the weakest team they’ll face all tour, how will they manage to even be competitive in the test series, let alone win a game?
The New Zealand media have gotten the knives out already, calling the performance ‘pathetic’, and stating that the Lions reached ‘unbelievable levels of mediocrity’!
The NZ media always tend to see themselves as a ’16th man’ when the Lions tour, doing their best to demoralise the opposition any chance they get.
Players have always talked about how New Zealand is the toughest place to tour as the whole country seems to be knowledgeable about the game and they’re all against you.
The Lions play the Blues on Wednesday, who are currently 6th in Super Rugby (this is the Southern Hemisphere equivalent of the Heineken Cup, comprising the best teams in New Zealand, South Africa and Australia. As well as teams from Japan and Argentina).
On Saturday week, the Lions play the Crusaders who are the top team in Super Rugby, having won all their games. They have also won the Super Rugby competition 7 times, more than any other team (albeit their last win was in 2008). Still, they may be the best club side in the world at this moment.
Many are calling the game against the Crusaders the Lions’ unofficial 4th test (with the Maori game being a possible 5th test). The Lions will have to be infinitely better than they were yesterday if they want to win.
It was the lowest score in a Lions opening fixture in their history. Also, one of the lowest scores by a Lions team in a match that they won. They need to put the loss behind them.
It wasn’t the worst opening performance in the history of the Lions. That dubious distinction belongs to the 1971 Lions team, that lost their opening game against Queensland (they played a few games in Australia before heading to New Zealand), the only Lions team to lose their opening fixture.
Some in New Zealand heard about the loss and labelled them as the worst Lions squad ever. Of course, the ’71 went on to win the test series in New Zealand, the only Lions team to do so.
That loss to Queensland was only 1 of 2 losses on the entire tour. The second loss was against New Zealand in the second test of the tour. In all, the ’71 Lions played 26 games, winning 23, losing 2 and drawing 1 (the last test).