British and Irish Lions 2017: Five things we learned as the tourists avoided shock defeat in their opening match

Warren Gatland's Lions edged past the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians with a 13-7 victory

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Faletau proves there’s life after Billy

Losing a player of the calibre of Billy Vunipola is never good news for any team, so Warren Gatland will have been pleased to see his obvious replacement, Taulupe Faletau, play a starring role in the 13-7 win over the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians.

While some of his teammates faltered on their first audition for the Test side, Faletau stood up to take on the responsibility and, not only was he prominent in attack, he pulled off a moment of brilliance in defence to save the Lions from a potential tour-opening defeat – something that would have been a disaster for Warren Gatland and his side.

faletau.jpg
Faletau made a respectable start to the tour (Getty)

Faletau was wise enough to back-track and not only haul down Barbarians wing Sevu Reece but rotate his body as they slid towards the line to ensure that he could not ground the ball, with the try likely to have condemned the Lions to a loss. If Faletau can maintain this level of performance, then the No 8 shirt should be in good hands for the rest of the tour.

Te’o takes his chance to put himself in Test mix

One of the surprise inclusions in the tour party was Ben Te’o, but his opening performance went a long way to justifying Gatland’s selection of the New Zealand-born former rugby league international. Te’o was the Lions’ standout attacker in the first 40 minutes, and he continued to make intrusions into Barbarians’ territory as the second half wore on and the Lions grew into the game.

He also played a strong role in defence, securing a turnover when the Lions were under pressure on their own 22, and if few people put their hands up for Test selection, he will certainly be among the ones who did.

ben-teo.jpg
Te'o has put himself in the mix (Getty)

The Lions centre equation looks fairly murky given that Gatland appears reluctant to select Farrell at No 12. That means that Robbie Henshaw and Te’o could be fighting each other for the inside centre role, although Te’o has the advantage of being better suited to the No 13 shirt than his Irish counterpart.

Sexton missing that something special

Jonathan Sexton is a quality player that is capable of turning in the highest performances, and yet in his last two appearances he has faltered and the team has suffered as a result. The fly-half uncharacteristically fired the ball into touch on the full when under little pressure, and he also missed a shot at goal that you would have backed Owen Farrell, the man he’s fighting for the No 10 Test role, to have converted.

It was a very similar performance to the one in Leinster’s Pro12 semi-final defeat, and it would seem that at the moment Sexton has lost that X-factor that he has always had in the locker. It would be wrong to write the stand-off out of the Test equation given his talents, but another performance like this one before the first Test would probably do that for him.

Gatland Jr wiser than his age suggests

The best player for the first 60 minutes was undoubtedly Bryn Gatland, the son of Lions coach Warren. The 22-year-old put in a display that a 15-year rugby veteran would have been proud of, with his tactical kicking causing all sorts of problems for the Lions. The back three of Stuart Hogg, Anthony Watson and Tommy Seymour really struggled to cope with the high ball, and he was also able to pin the Lions back in their own territory with smart kick to the sidelines.

bryn-gatland-1.jpg
Bryn Gatland with his father after the game (Getty)

Having broken into the Auckland Blues side this season, Gatland looked like he had enough in the locker to make a Super Rugby career out of his future. Watch this space.

Jetlag hurt Lions but it’s Test hopes that may pay the price

Gatland admitted after the match that the two-day journey to New Zealand and the subsequent struggle to conquer their jetlag had a detrimental effect on the 22 players who featured for the Lions on Saturday night.

warren-gatland.jpg
Gatland admitted travelling had taken its toll on the Lions (Getty)

Their sleeping patterns will not have been helped by the 24-hour storm that hit the Northland area ahead of the match, given the trouble that it caused for most of the fans that had travelled to Whangarei for the match.

Gatland will happily take this into consideration when he judges his players’ performances, although the problem is that some of these squad members will only get two chances to impress, and this was one of them. Tired, uncomfortable and drained of energy is no way to go through a Lions tour.

Comments