Provincial Barbarians 7 - 13 British & Irish Lions: Lions struggle to win

British and Irish Lions' Stuart Hogg breaks a tackle. Pic: David Davies/PA Wire.
British and Irish Lions' Stuart Hogg breaks a tackle. Pic: David Davies/PA Wire.
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The British & Irish Lions began their 2017 tour with a win, albeit they made heavy weather of a nervy and tight encounter as the trio of Scots all started.

Owen Farrell answered the misfiring British and Irish Lions’ distress call to sink the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians 13-7, as Johnny Sexton endured a wretched night in Whangarei.

Greig Laidlaw closes in on  Bryn Gatland. Pic: David Rogers/Getty Images

Greig Laidlaw closes in on Bryn Gatland. Pic: David Rogers/Getty Images

Ireland fly-half Sexton trudged off after just 48 minutes of the Lions’ opening tour clash in New Zealand, removed in part due to a potential leg injury - but also after a miserable performance.

Self-employed maintenance engineer Sam Anderson-Heather’s try put the Barbarians 7-3 ahead at the break, with Farrell forced to rescue the tourists in a wholly unconvincing victory.

Sexton boasts 66 caps for Ireland and three for the Lions, but was eclipsed by his opposite number, Bryn Gatland, the 22-year-old son of Lions boss Warren.

England star Farrell had hardly set foot on the sodden Toll Stadium turf when he launched the killer move, then supplied the scoring pass for Anthony Watson’s decisive try.

Tommy Seymour of the British & Irish Lions is hauled down by Sevu Reece. Pic: David Rogers/Getty Images

Tommy Seymour of the British & Irish Lions is hauled down by Sevu Reece. Pic: David Rogers/Getty Images

Sexton had admitted in advance of this clash that he was already lagging behind Saracens talisman Farrell in the race for the Lions’ number 10 Test shirt.

And against a scratch team of part-timers and youngsters, the vastly experienced Sexton ceded considerable ground in that individual battle with Farrell.

The Lions’ gruelling schedule has been dissected ad nauseam in the build-up to their punishing 10-match tour. And playing their first match after just four days in the country took a clear toll on head coach Warren Gatland’s men.

Tour captain Sam Warburton insisted jet-lag would be no excuse for the Lions on their first hit-out, so on this evidence Gatland’s side have much work to do to build a side to challenge New Zealand.

The Lions move quickly onwards to face Blues in Auckland on Wednesday, and will know full well they must improve out of sight to cope with full-strength Super Rugby sides - let alone the back-to-back world champion All Blacks.

Taulupe Faletau, Kyle Sinckler and Ben Te’o were the only starting Lions to emerge with any credit from an insipid, limited performance.

The hosts showed slick, aggressive interplay at jarring odds with the sloppy, sluggish and error-strewn approach of the big-name tourists, who turned around in embarrassing arrears at half-time.

Barbarians captain Anderson-Heather squeezes in his rugby around his engineering day job, but wriggled home here for the game’s sole first-half score.

The Baa-Baas boasted a 7-3 lead at the interval, Bryn Gatland converting Anderson-Heather’s score, and Sexton posting a penalty as the Lions’ paltry reply.

Jet-lag or not, this Lions XV lacked intensity, incision and accuracy in a hugely underwhelming opening to one of the storied franchise’s toughest-ever assignments in New Zealand.

Scotland full-back Stuart Hogg butchered two near dead-cert tries by fluffing the scoring pass - first miscuing his effort to Anthony Watson, then failing to ship on at all with Tommy Seymour awaiting a walk-in.

Iain Henderson struggled as well, dishing out one cheap penalty in a lacklustre first 40 minutes.

And Sexton looked every inch a man who had only played three times for Leinster since January in a hugely ring-rusty opening salvo.

The Ireland playmaker had to let Greig Laidlaw slot a second-half penalty after receiving treatment, and was left limping lightly.

His awful night was cut short soon afterwards, with Warren Gatland sounding the clarion call for Farrell.

The England fly-half offered an immediate uplift, first setting Ross Moriarty loose - then providing the scoring pass for Watson.

Farrell then converted what ought to have proved the breakthrough score - but still the Lions continued to struggle.

The teak-tough Saracen even blasted a penalty against the left post after the hour, with only six points still separating the sides.

The Lions even had to defend a driven lineout in the final minute, where a converted try would have handed the Barbarians the victory.

The replacement front row of Jamie George, Mako Vunipola and Tadhg Furlong squeezed the hosts into submission, however.

The Lions held on, but this was a match where they ought to have powered home - not inched across the line.