Kiwi press react: Lions reach ‘unimaginable levels of mediocrity’

New Zealand media deliver scathing verdict on tourists after narrow opening victory

So, an opening win for the British and Irish Lions in New Zealand - but a performance to forget.

Warren Gatland’s side were laboured and sluggish as they began the tour with a narrow 13-7 win over the New Zealand Barbarians on Saturday morning (Irish time).

And this was perhaps understandable given the Lions only arrived down under last Wednesday, leaving just three days to acclimatise and train ahead of their opener.

But while there are legitimate excuses for their stuttering showing at the Toll Stadium - where Anthony Watson scored the Lions' sole try - it won't be giving the All Blacks sleepless nights ahead of the opening Test match in three weeks.

And given what lies ahead for the Lions, they'd have to be worried.

Already strong underdogs going into the three-Test series, the win over the Barbarians only served to show the amount of work an undeniably talented Lions squad have to do in order to mount a serious challenge against the world champions.

And the New Zealand press don’t give them much hope of doing so - with the tourists’ performance garnering some pretty scathing reviews.

Gregor Paul, rugby writer for the NZ Herald on Sunday, writes that the Lions’ victory, “was one that saw them reach unimaginable levels of mediocrity.”

Paul doesn't pull any punches in his assessment of Gatland's side: "If coach Warren Gatland had a worst case scenario in mind for the Lions performance, his team surpassed it. It was, frankly, a ghastly night for them where, with the exception of Toby Faletau and Ben Teo'o, they spectacularly failed to impress.

“And given what lies ahead for the Lions, they’d have to be worried. New Zealand should be worried for them. Maybe even say a little prayer because they need some kind of miracle to survive the next five weeks if what they offered in Whangarei is what they are all about.

“There they were, up against a group of hastily thrown together provincial battlers, and...nothing. The big opening statement was never made.

“They couldn’t impose themselves. They couldn’t find space. They couldn’t control the breakdown or determine the tempo.”

His views are echoed by fellow NZ Herald journalist Patrick McKendry: “This, unfortunately for the British and Irish Lions, was a damp squib of a performance in the opening match of their highly anticipated tour.”

However he also reserved some praise for the NZ Barbarians, whose squad - it must be remembered - was also recently cobbled together.

He writes: “The Baabaas had been together only since last Saturday, and they didn’t bother with the analysis bit - they concentrated only on themselves and their performance and boy did that get that right.”

Both Paul and McKendry suggest the Lions’ performance will have New Zealand’s Super Rugby franchises licking their lips and itching for a crack at the tourists.

McKendry writes: “The Lions, meanwhile, looked sluggish in mind and foot. One can only imagine what the Blues or the Crusaders, the latter with their feet up after a torrid victory over the Highlanders earlier in the day, thought of this.

“The Blues host the Lions on Wednesday, and Scott Robertson’s men play the Lions in Christchurch next Saturday and, having watched the Barbarians push Warren Gatland’s pack around, and the backs run rings around the visitors, the Crusaders should feel confident of a earning a famous scalp.”

Elsewhere the Lions come in for further criticism from Paul Reason, writing for stuff.nz.co, and he is highly critical of the performance of one of the Irish contingent.

He writes: "Poor Iain Henderson probably wanted to crawl into a hole. He looked completely overawed by the occasion. Donnacha Ryan must have been sitting at home in Ireland and wondering how he was ever left off the tour."

Not exactly a vintage start, then - but here’s hoping the Lions will have them eating their words come June 24th.

Patrick Madden

Patrick Madden

Patrick Madden is a former sports journalist with The Irish Times

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