British & Irish Lions limp to nervy 13-7 win over NZ Provincial Barbarians
By Tony Tighe
Last Updated: 03/06/17 5:31pm
Anthony Watson's second-half try ensured the British and Irish Lions limped to a 13-7 win over the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians in Whangerei.
The tourists were not at the races as they squandered five try-scoring opportunities in the first half, with Sam Anderson-Heather crossing for the Barbarians on 24 minutes to give them a 7-3 half-time lead.
It required the introduction of Owen Farrell at fly-half to change the momentum. The Saracen had only been on the pitch for six minutes when he first put Ross Moriarty through a gap and then provided the scoring pass for Watson's 54th-minute try.
But that was as good as it got for the Lions as they failed to build on Watson's score. Farrell missed a kick at goal that would have put two scores between the teams and they endured some nervy moments late on as the Barbarians pressed for a late winner.
The standout fly-half on show was Bryn Gatland, the son of Lions coach Warren. He kept the Lions guessing with a combination of crossfield kicks and up-and-unders.
The Barbarians' half-time lead could have been more substantial, with Taulupe Faletau scrambling back to make a try-saving tackle on Kaveinga Finau after Luteru Laulala butchered a three-on-one overlap.
The Lions were more direct in the second half, Greig Laidlaw and Farrell putting boot to ball after they played for territory, but it resulted in just one try and there is much work to be done ahead of Wednesday's clash with the Blues.
Man of the match
This was an opportunity missed by Johnny Sexton in the race for the No 10 shirt. He struggled to influence the game and Farrell's introduction resulted in a marked improvement in the Lions' play.
Both could still feature in the starting line-up but Ben Te'o has put his hands up for selection at inside centre. He was a great gain-line option and produced some deft offloads.
Farrell replaced the ineffective Sexton on 48 minutes and was heavily involved in Watson's decisive score.
His tactical kick boxed the Barbarians inside their own 22 and he then produced a lovely cut-out pass to send Moriarty tearing towards the line. Although the flanker was tackled, quick ruck ball allowed Farrell to find Watson, who shimmied his way over to score.
Taulupe Faletau was outstanding in attack and defence. He came to the rescue on 13 minutes with a try-saving tackle and was held up at the other end as the Lions pushed for a five-pointer on the stroke of half-time.
Wales team-mate Moriarty also impressed as did England duo Kyle Sinckler and Ben Te'o, while the bench made an impact. Although the Lions managed just one try they at least created a number of scoring opportunities.
The Barbarians will be kicking themselves as this is a game they could easily have won. Bryn Gatland dazzled in front of his dad and they made some brilliant last-ditch tackles inside their own 22.
Where do we start? The Barbarians won their own kick-off and that signalled the start of an abject 80 minutes from the tourists.
Jetlag cannot be blamed for the lack of understanding and unforced errors, with the starting half-back combination of Laidlaw and Sexton failing to put their stamp on proceedings.
A terrible pass from Stuart Hogg botched a certain try for Watson on 29 minutes, while Sam Warburton ran into the back of Te'o close to the Barbarians line.
It was a sign of the Lions' struggles that they opted for a kick at goal with 14 minutes remaining when they had their foot on the Barbarians' throat, only for Farrell to hit the post.
Tweet of the match
Slow start but it's a W at least! T'eo, Seymour & Faletau decent showings. Farrell good when he came on.— Brian O'Driscoll (@BrianODriscoll) June 3, 2017
The Lions return to Auckland to face the Blues at Eden Park on Wednesday, live on Sky Sports 1 HD from 8am.