After months of hype and excitement it would be fair to say that the opening game of the Lions tour did fall a little flat.
A lack of cohesion was expected and evident to an even greater degree than we may have foreseen with the unforced error count being altogether too high for a team with as many top class players in it. It may not have been pretty but the Lions got the job done, and with the Blues to play on Wednesday they cannot afford to dwell too long on Saturday’s showing.
While some in the New Zealand media have been happy to slate and write off the Lions already, on the back of a single performance, it seems both rash and short-sighted to believe this is anywhere near as good as the Lions will play during the series.
There were some positives to be found in the game from the view of Gatland’s coaching staff and a fair amount of credit must be given to the Provincial Barbarians for putting in a brave effort, with a number of players showing that they have something to offer at Super Rugby level.
With that being said, as attention turns to the next game we take a look at the areas where the Lions will be looking to improve before their next match.
3. The Error Count
While no team would ever realistically expect to perfectly gel after only training together for less than two weeks and having only stepped off a plane on the other side of the world three days previously, the amount of errors the Lions made will be as worrying to Gatland as it was frustrating to the team.
While the previous day’s heavy rain made for a slippery surface and a greasy ball, the number of handling errors seen was unacceptable for a team seeking to beat the All Blacks on their home turf. The number of knock-ons and poor passes prevented the Lions from building any sort of momentum and in turn kept offering hope to the Barbarians that they could score the upset as the Lions were so far off top gear.
With what is sure to be a harsh video review session to come, expect the Lions to be far more accurate when facing the Blues as they seek to build some continuity and confidence before taking on the All Blacks.
For a team packed with an array of seasoned internationals, the Lions were often guilty of not seeing what was in front of them and playing that. With the Barbarians playing a fast, aggressive defensive line, space was often exploited in behind yet in the first half the Lions failed to exploit this as they should have, with Laidaw’s kick at the start of the second half the first real time the Lions exploited this opening.
The high ball which was rarely seen in the first half again proved a useful weapon for the Lions in the second half as the Barbarians wingers, who were so dangerous in attack did not look as composed under the aerial threat. While the decisions to kick for goal often proved unpopular it may require these type of calls throughout the tour to build leads and let the Lions work their way into games.
1. Slow Start
From the beginning of the game a dropped restart immediately put the lions on the back foot. For the opening seven and a half minutes the match was played entirely in their own half. Against the Super Rugby sides, and in particular against New Zealand, this kind of lackadaisical start could result in games being lost before the Lions ever get started.
Giving the All Blacks a lead and having to chase that for the rest of the game is a feat few sides have overcome. As Ireland showed in their win over the All Blacks in Chicago the way to beat New Zealand is with a fast start and building a lead. Simply put, if the Lions start any of the Test series match-ups as slowly as they did today they could be in for a very difficult evening.
Andrew Byrne, Pundit Arena