It would take a hard-hearted man not to laugh out loud, as Oscar Wilde almost said, at the plight of the British and Irish Lions after they struggled to beat a rag tag team of club enthusiasts, Super 12 fringe players and some grey-beards with one foot out the exit door.
Goodness knows how much Sky have paid for the broadcast rights but there was a hint of panic in the commentators’ voices as the match unfolded. If this goes the way of 2005, their audience figures for the Tests will be beaten by One Man and His Dog. In fact, their audience figures will be one man and a dog.
Jonny Sexton is a class act but he is in a horrible rut right now where everything he touches turns to dust. He kicked straight into touch when aiming at left winger Tommy Seymour, his passes were either too deep or too flat and he even managed to concede a penalty for a head-high tackle.
You can’t play your way into the Test team in one match but you can surely play your way out of contention in one match, which is exactly what Sexton did; or to be more accurate he managed the feat in just 48 minutes, which was as long at Warren Gatland’s patience lasted.
At least the Lions’ coach had the grim satisfaction of watching his 22-year-old son Bryn overshadow the Irishman at every turn. We know why Sexton was replaced but quite why the Babas’ excellent stand-off Gatland was subbed well before the end is the subject of a stewards’ enquiry.
Owen Farrell replaced Sexton on 48 minutes and the Lions had scored their one and only try three minutes later. Farrell kicked deep into space to give the Lions’ field position. His bullet pass earned Ross Moriarty a line break and the English stand-off made the simple scoring pass to Anthony Watson – something that proved beyond Stuart Hogg in the first half.
It would be nice to say that the three Scots on the field rose above the general shambles but that would be pushing things.
Greig Laidlaw was tidy enough at nine although his lack of pace and physicality came under the microscope. One time late in the first half he ignored a huge gap and meekly passed the ball. Another time a dangerous counter-attack by the Barbarians’ full-back Luteru Laulala (brother of All Black Casey) could have been stopped at source had the little Scot made the first-up tackle. Instead it was left to Taulupe Faletua to save the day.
Seymour was caught out of position by one of Gatland Jnr’s cross-field kicks which bounced nicely for his opposite number and the winger’s blushes were only saved by Hogg. Sadly that was one of the few highlights for the Scottish full-back.
Hogg tried his best and at times he looked like his old self, stepping one, two defenders before popping an offload in the heavy traffic but sadly that was the exception rather than the rule.
The Scot’s game has always involved mistakes but rarely has he made quite as many as he did yesterday. The most glaringly obvious one was that first-half scoring pass to Watson, or rather it should have been a scoring pass had it not been one metre too far forward. meaning the English winger had to dive just to catch the ball before being bundled into touch shy of the line.
A little later Gatland cleared the Babas’ lines with a huge touch-finder and Hogg, attempting to keep the ball alive, played the ball with one toe in touch, gifting the Barbarians 45 metres for no effort.
The Scot allowed one ball to roll through his legs, as he snuck a quick look to see what was on, and he failed to defuse the huge bomb that Gatland sent soaring into the night sky inside the Lions’ 22. The ball was reclaimed by the Kiwis and led directly to their only try of the match.
The Lions will get much better than this but so too will the opposition.