Lions must find momentum after dismal opening performance

Tourists struggle to beat part-timers of New Zealand's Provincial Barbarians in opening match

David Rogers/Getty Images
Mako Vunipola of the Lions is tackled during the narrow win over NZ Provincial Barbarians
(Image credit: Lions Mako Vunipola)

Gatland vs Sexton as Lions name team for Barbarians clash

01 June

Father and son will clash on Saturday when the British and Irish Lions kick off their New Zealand tour with a game against the Provincial Barbarians.

It's expected that the Lions boss will test his son's defence by instructing England centre Ben Te'o to run hard and fast at the opposition fly-half, as he did with great effect during the Six Nations in scoring tries against France and Italy.

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Asked if he had been in contact with Bryn, who plays his rugby for North Harbour, Gatland said: "I spoke to him last night and he seems to be enjoying the week. We will catch up tomorrow. He probably expects to make a few tackles on the weekend but we haven't spoken too much about the game."

Bryn, for his part, admitted that he's got mixed emotions about the Lions three-Test series against New Zealand, saying: "I'm an All Blacks supporter normally but family comes first so I want the Lions to do well. It's not that I want the All Blacks to lose, it's that I want Dad to do well. It will be amazing if the Lions can do well against the best side in the world. It will be a very proud moment for my family."

The Lions should kick off their tour with a comfortable victory against the Barbarians with Gatland naming a side containing a healthy mix of the four nations.

Scotland's three representatives - Greig Laidlaw, Tommy Seymour and Stuart Hogg - all start and there are four Welshman in the forwards, including the tour captain, flanker Sam Warburton, who is making his return to action after suffering a knee injury in April.

The XV also includes three Irishmen - among them fly-half Jonathan Sexton - and five Englishmen.

"We have named a side that showcases a strong combination of experience and youth and we are really looking forward to Saturday," said Gatland, who didn't consider for any selection those members of the tour party who played for their clubs last weekend.

One of the most interesting selection issues for the Lions will be the Test fly-half with Sexton, Owen Farrell and Dan Biggar of Wales all vying for the number ten jersey.

Farrell is on the bench for Saturday's game and asked if the Englishman might be considered at inside centre at some stage on the tour, Gatland replied: "We know that is an option for us having played there for England as well. But I think as do the other coaches that he is a world class number ten.

"It is not just Sexton and Farrell we have Biggar as well. There is some real experience there. Knowing the three of them they are all desperate to play in that position. The players are aware of the competition in that position. They will get a chance, the three of them to start."

Lions XV: Stuart Hogg, Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph, Ben Te’o, Tommy Seymour, Johnny Sexton, Greig Laidlaw; Joe Marler, Rory Best, Kyle Sinckler, Alun Wyn Jones, Iain Henderson, Ross Moriarty, Sam Warburton, Taulupe Faletau. Replacements: Jamie George, Mako Vunipola, Tadhg Furlong, George Kruis, Justin Tipuric, Rhys Webb, Owen Farrell, Jared Payne.

Lions in New Zealand: Will they be ready for the All Blacks?

31 May

The British and Irish Lions have arrived in New Zealand. Despite concerns over the lack of preparation time, they insist that jetlag won't be a factor in the opening game of the tour against a Provincial Barbarians side on Saturday.

The tourists were given a traditional Maori welcome on arrival in Auckland. But after accepting the challenge laid down by their hosts and exchanging a 'hongi' greeting, the players quickly got down to business.

The squad "have spent so little time together before arriving in New Zealand it was a slight surprise not to see players sprinting across the airport tarmac to the nearest available training paddock", says Robert Kitson of The Guardian.

"In the event the squad and management did pause long enough to participate in a traditional nose-rubbing Maori welcome ceremony and sing the Welsh hymn Calon Lan but every second is going to count over the next few days."

Tour manager John Spencer has described the amount of preparation time as "disappointing". The brutal schedule has been a regular topic of conversation during the build-up to the tour.

The first game is just two days away but captain Sam Warburton says he and the rest of the squad are ready to go.

"The squad took part in swimming and recovery session after their arrival in New Zealand," says Gavin Mairs of the Daily Telegraph.

"But jetlag protocol means that the squad will only be able to do light training on Thursday before the captain's run on Friday ahead of the opening game of the ten-match tour at the Toll Stadium in Whangerei.

Warburton "insisted" the demands of the journey should not affect the players' performance. He is "expected to captain the side for the opening game on Saturday having made a full recovery from a knee injury that forced him to miss the end of Cardiff's season".

The Lions skipper did warn that it would "take a little while" for the squad to warm up. He also admitted he would be happy to lose a tour match or two if it meant the team were better prepared for what promises to be a titanic Test series.

"Warburton was only being straight-up and honest here," says Owen Slot of The Times. "The Lions should win on Saturday against the Provincial Barbarians with plenty to spare. Their next two games, against the Blues and Crusaders, however, will be exceptionally tough for new teams and new units in place for the first time."

All Blacks coach Hansen criticises Lions tour schedule

30 May

As the British and Irish Lions make their way to New Zealand the first volleys in the verbal war have been fired by All Blacks coach Steven Hansen. He has questioned why they are arriving in the country just three days before their opening game of the ten-match tour.

In an interview with The Times, Hansen appeared to criticise the planning and said he would have expected most of the squad to have arrived last week.

He added that when it became clear that fewer players than expected were to appear in the Premiership final, in which Exeter beat Wasps, and the climax of the Pro 12 season, won by Scarlets, he would have flown them out sooner.

"If most of them are not playing, what's stopping them getting on a plane now with most of the squad, for example?

"You'd want to be there a week at the minimum," he said. "When we tour we have total control over when we leave the country."

Hansen appears "idiosyncratically calm", says Owen Slot of the Times, but also "abrasive".

"He believes he can see Warren Gatland's game plan from a mile off and, as for his own team, he says that you may have been impressed by them last year but there is more to come."

The squad flew out after a farewell dinner on Sunday night. They arrive in New Zealand on Tuesday and will have only three days preparation time before their first game on Saturday against a Barbarians team.

The first Test match is on 24 June in Auckland.

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