Five talking points from a sloppy Lions opener
Bryn Gatland shows up the tourists, as slow start and poor decision making proves costly
Johnny Sexton passes the ball as Bryn Gatland of NZ Provincial Barbarians closes in. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images
1) Sluggish Lions slow off the mark
The rustiness of the Lions was evident from the first whistle, when they failed to gather the kick-off and proceeded to spend the next 10 minutes camped in their own half. It must be remembered, however, that they were up against a scratch side, with even less time to prepare.
More pertinent to the Lions’ torpor, then, is the fact that they only arrived in New Zealand on Wednesday and were clearly sluggish – in thought perhaps more than body – as a result.
Assuming the Lions are acclimatised by Wednesday, there should be a far faster start against the Blues but there was still a concerning lack of intensity, particularly up front from a forward pack that is supposed to be the tourists’ biggest advantage.
Stuart Hogg fumbling with his first touch was an inauspicious start and he then butchered an overlap with Anthony Watson outside him and looking to go over. It was not Johnny Sexton’s day at all. His kicking was poor, which is only asking for trouble in New Zealand, and the Irish standoff fired out a few rank passes.
2) Son of Gatland impresses
Bryn Gatland has just a handful of Super Rugby appearances to his name but what would his old man have given for a outhalf displaying such composure?
Gatland Jr approached the contest determined to enjoy himself and intent on showcasing the full extent of his kicking repertoire. He was not the only Barbarian to impress: Sevu Reece caught the eye on the wing, as did Luteru Laulala at fullback, as well as the replacement backrow Matt Matich.
Many of the Barbarians are part-timers and their ranks included shop owners, sheep farmers and nurses. How comfortable they were on the ball, however, showed an inbuilt skill set that simply does not exist in the northern hemisphere.
3) Lions bench makes huge impact
While they are not in abundance, one of the main plus points for the Lions was the impact of their replacements. George Kruis made his presence felt at the lineout and Owen Farrell upped the tempo, even if he missed a routine penalty.
The Lions had a bit of difficulty in getting all their replacements on when they wanted – if that was poor administration on their part they cannot afford it to happen later down the line – but once they were on the paddock, there was a bit more direction and verve to the tourists’ play.
4) Four hold-ups signal failure to finish
There is no doubting that Gatland was accentuating the positives when, straight after the match, he was pointing to the Lions being held up over the line four times. True, but their failure to convert their chances should be far more worrying.
Anthony Watson might have had a hat-trick had heads stayed a little cooler and there was a concerning moment in the first half when Greig Laidlaw, admittedly not known for his sniping, missed a huge gap that one of the Barbarians props was practically ushering him through. Laidlaw was already committed to the pass and it is worrying because it was clear evidence of the Lions’ muddled thinking.
If they cannot learn to play what is in front of them before the Tests they are in trouble.
5) Crotty and Smith a worry for All Blacks
Without wishing to take any pleasure in the misfortune of others, it has not been a perfect weekend for the All Blacks either and Steve Hansen will be anxious about the injuries sustained by Ryan Crotty and Ben Smith in the Crusaders’ victory over the Highlanders.
Crotty suffered a rib injury and, as the Crusaders coach, Scott Robertson, put it: “I think that Steve Hansen will be tucking into his notebook and thinking who’s next.”
Smith, meanwhile, suffered a concussion and would be a big miss for the All Blacks. Add in the fact that Kieran Read is doubtful for the first Test and Dane Coles’s concussion problems are continuing and Hansen will be relieved indeed that Super Rugby goes on hold after this weekend.