The British and Irish Lions tour 2017 kicked off in Whangarei, New Zealand with the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians hosting the tourists. All of the talk of 4 years could now be turned into actual game time. The Lions looked set to cruise to victory but when you add jet lag, it gave the Barbarians team a chance at history.
Before kickoff, both teams faced off against a cultural dance. It was not quite the haka but it was a Maori tribal standoff to leave the Lions with something to chew on before the rugby commenced.
The Lions started off rather shaken as Bryn Gatland’s, son of Warren, kick off was retained by the Ba Ba’s. Sam Vaka shimmied through the defence and suddenly the Lions were on red alert. The Lions dealt with the pressure but when Gatland cross kicked the alarms were still ringing. It was failed to be gathered in by Sevu Reece but the Provincial XV were showing some early (and slightly worrying) intent.
Despite the lackluster start, it was eventually the British Lions who got the first chance for points. Johnny Sexton lined the ball up in a rather easy position only to strike the ball wide of the posts! Poor start by the Irish fly half.
Ben Te’o was beginning to terrorise the Barbarians defence and after a few phases of power play, the Barbarians conceded a penalty that this time Sexton notched.
The Lions lead looked to be short lived however and when Luteru Laulala made a fine break somebody needed to cover back. The brother of All Black Casey gave the offload to Kaveinga Finau but Taulupe Faletau tracked back and made a wonderful tackle to hold the centre up over the line. The Lions survived again.
The men in red were not at the races and were soon punished for their inaccurate play. Sam Anderson-Heather smashed out of a tackle and crashed over the line for the Ba Bas and they took the lead by 4 points after Gatland’s conversion. It was fairytale stuff for the men from New Zealand.
The Barbarians defence was beginning to crumble and the Lions should have exploited it. Stuart Hogg was not playing to his best and he squandered a huge opportunity by feeding Anthony Watson an awful pass just metres from the line. If it had gone to hand, it would have been a walk in for the English winger!
HALF TIME NZ PROVINCIAL BARBARIANS 7 – 3 BRITISH AND IRISH LIONS
Greig Laidlaw started the half well with an easy kick at goal to bring the scores back to within 1 point.
The Barbarians came back out and looked very fatigued until Andrew Makalio came in with a thunderous hit on Alun Wyn Jones! There was suddenly a lot of life in the game.
Johnny Sexton was having an awful game and when he was replaced by Owen Farrell, the balance shifted. Firstly Farrell launched a superb kick into the 22 and the ball was turned over. Then he set Ross Moriarty free and a powerful run until finally He laid a wonderful flat pass to Anthony Watson who weaved back on the inside of the defence and dived in! Finally the Lions had got their try! Farrell also pinged a fantastical conversion from the touchline to complete his instant impact!
The Lions held out and when Owen Farrell launched the ball into touch, it was a win. Not a convincing one but a win nonetheless.
FULL TIME NZ PROVINCIAL BARBARIANS 7 – 13 BRITISH AND IRISH LIONS