Lions battle to a hard-fought win over the NZ Barbarians
The British and Irish Lions came back from a nervy start to beat the Provincial Barbarians 13-7 at Toll Stadium in Whangarei.
A second-half Anthony Watson try brought them through to victory in the tough match on Saturday.
It took the introduction of Owen Farrell, for the jittery Jonathan Sexton, to calm the Lions nerves, and the game went down the closing seconds when one last Barbarians attack failed in the final minute, ensuring that while it was a poor performance, the Lions at least made a winning start.
Sexton’s decision to kick for goal when the Lions were awarded an early penalty for a ruck infringement brought jeers from the partisan home crowd, though they soon turned to cheers as he missed the target with his first shot at goal.
The Barbarians would issue the best response possible when they took what must be said was a deserved lead. A period of sustained pressure at the start of the match that saw the Lions stranded in their own half for the opening seven minutes failed to reap reward, but when the Barbarians attacked again they would not come away empty handed.
The orchestrator proved to be Warren Gatland’s son, Bryn, whose dangerous up-and-under came spiralling back to earth deep inside the Lions 22. No one claimed it, and when the ball was recycled on the Barbarians side, it was the captain Sam Anderson-Heather whose pick-and-go saw him drive through Sexton’s attempted tackle to score, with Gatland converting.
The Lions would fail to trouble the scoreboard again in the first half, with a late chance going begging as Jonathan Joseph was held up, but the second half would at least be an improvement.
After three points from the boot of Greig Laidlaw, who took on kicking duties while Sexton received treatment, the Lions finally found a way over the try line. In came Farrell for Sexton, and his first contribution was to release Ross Moriarty into the Barbarians’ 22. The break put the defence on the back foot, and that allowed Laidlaw to feed Farrell on the blindside, who shipped it on the Watson with the England winger pirouetting his way over the line to score.
Farrell’s conversion gave the Lions a 13-7 lead, though he was unable to add to it in the 66th minute when his first penalty effort struck the upright, and it would prove to be the last scoring opportunity for either side as the tourists chalked up their first win of the series, no matter how unconvincing it was.
Belfast Telegraph Digital