Thursday 9 February 2023 Dublin: 2°C
# Off the Mark
How we rated the Lions in their horribly stuttering start to the tour
The NZ Provincial Barbarians pushed the tourists all the way in Whangarei.

THE LIONS GOT their tour off to a winning start against the Provincial Barbarians in Whangarei this morning… just about. Here’s how we rated Warren Gatland’s starting XV.

Stuart Hogg: 4

On a wet pitch, chances are few and far between for back threes to shine so Hogg’s butchering of the best of them was extremely frustrating. The most exciting player in the Six Nations, but his team needed something much more predictable and reliable in Northland.

Stuart Hogg tackled by Jonah Lowe Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Anthony Watson: 6

Finished off the Lions’ overdue opening try with aplomb, anticipating the contact and spinning away.

Looked certain to score a fine try until Hogg’s pass put him off balance and onto the deck in the right corner. Also appeared to cause a mix-up with the Scot when Bryn Gatland hoisted a Garryowen into the 22 that led to the opening try.

Jonathan Joseph: 4

Another who suffered with the conditions and the lack of front foot. Guilty of some handling and carry choice errors in the first half and offered little possibility of a breakthrough. Paled in comparison to his midfield partner.

Ben Te’o: 8

The best back on the field by a distance, the Aucklander punched holes at will and delivered beautiful offloads. His power will be a real weapon on this tour and the Lions will surely figure out a way to use it soon.

Tommy Seymour: 6

Had to live off scraps, but did quite well with the few half gaps he was presented, jinking and twisting through contacts to keep his side on the front foot.

Johnny Sexton: 4

Let’s start with the positives, eh? Early in the first half, he imposed his intensive attacking style to decent effect and some cooler heads around him might have yielded try. He made his tackles, slowed up ball and  also claimed the first points of the tour.

Jonathan Sexton on the attack Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

After that, Sexton’s performance bore a worrying resemblance to his display against the Scarlets. Passes went to ground, kicks flew way off their target and he was rightly replaced by the 50 minute mark.

Greig Laidlaw: 3

Sexton wasn’t helped by his half-back partner, it must be said. The Scot’s service was pedestrian and, once the try-line was any way close, he attempted to snipe his own way over far too often rather than feed the back-line.

Joe Marler: 5

The Lions set-piece went well, but aside from a bit of an early scrap with Bryn Gatland, the Harlequins loosehead had precious little impact outside of the tight exchanges.

Rory Best: 6

Quietly very effective. Brought his outstanding breakdown work to New Zealand and delivered valuable turnovers and barely made an error in open play.

Kyle Sinckler: 7

One of the few who looked like an international class player taking on a hastily-assembled regional selection. Tadhg Furlong has serious competition for the tighthead slot. The Harlequin scrummaged well, but his carring in the loose and his array of passing really made him stand-out.

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Alun Wyn Jones: 7

The true leader of this pack. Unlike his team-mates, never looked like accepting the excuse that they only got off the plane a few days ago. Strong tackles, superb maul defence and relentless work-rate.

Iain Henderson: 5

Some early carries showed promise, but looked far from sure of himself and should definitely have done better when Otago hooker Sam Anderson-Heather carried through him for the first half’s only try.

Ross Moriarty: 5

Grew into the game as it wore on. Delivered good physicality to the fray and his powerful carry off a fine Farrell pass paved the way for the Lions’ first try.

Sam Warburton: 5

The Lions flag-wavers were trumpeting the importance of having the captain lead the team out in game one, but the skipper struggled to make any impact. His captaincy choices were questionable too, passing up two kickable penalties when the Lions trailed 7 – 3 in the first half. Still struggling to create chances, the Lions were back looking for the tee within two minutes of the second half.

Taulupe Faletau tackled by Jack Stratton Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Taulupe Faletau: 8

Terrific start to the tour. Early, twisting tackle with pressure piling on and again showed good ability to get himself under a ball and carrier when he flew into a try-saving tackle to deny Inga Finau scoring the game’s first try.

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Gatland’s Lions off to dire start as they scrape past exciting Barbarians

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