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Lions labour to win in rugby tour opener

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 3/06/2017 Angelo Risso

The British and Irish Lions have cast considerable doubts over their competitiveness on New Zealand soil with a dour 13-7 victory against a mostly semi-professional provincial Barbarians outfit in Whangarei.

In what was the first of their 10-match tour of New Zealand, the Lions struggled to produce anything of note on Saturday despite their star-studded starting XV and laboured against a Barbarians side who spent just a week together in camp before the match.

Both sides managed a try apiece in Northland but, in the end, a pair of penalty goals to Johnny Sexton and Greig Laidlaw took the Lions over the line.

They'll need urgent improvement - both with the ball and at the set-piece, which they failed to dominate - to have any hope of victory over the Super Rugby sides.

An even stiffer challenge then awaits in the All Blacks.

The Barbarians enjoyed much of the ball in an inauspicious opening half, as a rusty Lions outfit - who arrived just three days ago in New Zealand - struggled to nail the basics and dropped too much ball.

English midfielders Jonathan Joseph and Ben Te'o - ostensibly chosen to fit coach Warren Gatland's penchant for crashing beyond the gainline - were mostly anonymous, running less than 40 metres combined, while first-five Sexton was imprecise.

Opposite number Bryn Gatland, meanwhile, used every kicking trick in the book - from grubbers to cross-field lobs, chips and bombs - to keep his side on the ascendancy, and played a major role in the side's 22nd-minute try through Sam Anderson-Heather.

Down 3-0 to a Sexton penalty goal, a Gatland bomb was left to bounce by Lions fullback Stuart Hogg and fell back into the Barbarians' grateful arms.

In possession just five metres from the line, the Barbarians eventually shifted the ball left to captain Sam Anderson-Heather, who crashed over to put his side in front.

Down 7-3 at the break, the Lions came out with renewed energy for the second half, going in front within 13 minutes.

A Laidlaw penalty goal put them within one point, before substitute first-five Owen Farrell - on for a subdued Sexton - put Watson over on the right edge.

Try as they might, the Barbarians couldn't muscle their way back into the contest in closing 25 minutes - but will earn all the plaudits for an inventive and brave display.

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