Owen Farrell rescued the British and Irish Lions in their first touring match of 2017, a tetchy 13-7 win over the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians. Five key lessons from the Lions’ opening clash of the New Zealand tour.
Sexton not ready to lead
Ireland talisman Johnny Sexton has time to pull himself back from the brink - but not much. If the Leinster star does not impress in his next performance on this tour, he will be a long way from the Test XV. England playmaker Farrell stepped off the bench and immediately conjured the move that salvaged victory for the underwhelming Lions. Sexton may also even have picked up an injury, given he turned down a shot at goal that Greig Laidlaw posted, and trudged off shortly afterwards. Even before that issue, however, this was one of Sexton’s worst performances in recent memory.
Faletau proved his class
All Blacks great Zinzan Brooke singled out Taulupe Faletau for criticism ahead of this tour, claiming the Wales back-rower did not boast enough “mongrel edge” to impress against New Zealand. Faletau insisted he did not “have any answer for him”, in reply to Brooke’s words, but then offered the ideal riposte on the field. His try-saving tackle in the first half would have been enough to merit solid review, but his overall performance rendered him the Lions’ star man, albeit on a low-key night.
Hogg has ground to recover
Scotland full-back Stuart Hogg suffered a night to forget in botching two gilt-edged tries, denying first Anthony Watson with a loose pass, and then holding when he should have sent Tommy Seymour home. The Glasgow flyer enjoyed a free-running Six Nations but was well shackled here. That could prove a sense of things to come as the New Zealand defences will know to shut him down at source. And his mistakes in defence could leave him already swimming against the tide for a Test shirt.
The Harlequins prop boasted some of the softest hands on display as the Lions struggled to get into the rhythm of flowing phase play. World Cup-winning former England lock Ben Kay joked on Twitter ‘Can we put Kyle at 10 please’. And while that was light-hearted, it underscored the Battersea man’s ability to mix subtlety with the bullishness required to hold his own in the front row.
Gatland’s son Bryn is bona-fide future star
Auckland Blues prospect Bryn Gatland could even face the Lions again on Wednesday night, in the Eden Park showdown against his Super Rugby outfit. The 22-year-old impressed here in running the show for the Barbarians side who threw caution to the wind in fine style. Gatland’s variety of play, his accurate kicking and his wide passing ensured the Lions were kept on their toes in a fraught first half. Gatland Jr even outshone Sexton, even though the accomplished Ireland fly-half did suffer an unusually off-kilter night. The young Gatland’s performance here was more than enough to indicate he has the quality to thrive at the top level.