Barbarians V Lions Five Areas of Interest

1. Barbarians passion and skill

Seeing the joy on the Barbarians faces as they ran out it was tempting to think that they were just happy to be making up the numbers in the fixture list. However, as soon as the ball was kicked it was clear they meant business, and they troubled the Lions with a combination of brawn and flair from the off. Their performance was truly staggering when it is remembered that this team, like the Lions, has been thrown together at the last minute, having had only a week to prepare for the game. The team sheet was also made up of an eclectic mix of semi-professionals whose ranks included a sheep farmer, a shopkeeper, a nurse and a fruit picker. These part timers did themselves proud with a distinguished performance that made their illustrious opponents look workmanlike.

To put this team into context, it was the equivalent of a mixed team of the best of the English Championship, or Anglo-Welsh cup. Their quality indicates the frightening depth of talent New Zealand possess.

2. Sleeping Lions

As good as the Barbarians were, the Lions didn’t half make hard work for themselves with an error strewn performance. The tone was set from kick off when the Lions fluffed the catch allowing the Barbarians to latch on to the ball and initiate 10 minutes of unnecessary early pressure. Again credit has to be given to the Barbarians for having the skill to capitalise on these mistakes.

In his post match interview Gatland diverted the pressure from his players citing jetlag as a potential reason for their jaded play: “These guys are still recovering from the travel, a number of players in the squad still haven’t got into regular sleep patterns.” Anyone who has been on a long haul flight and knows the pain of lying awake at 4 a.m. will sympathise with this excuse, but don’t expect a similar complaint following Wednesday’s bout with the Blues.

3. All Welsh Test Back Row?

With Sam Warburton captaining the tour, barring injury he is nailed on to start the test matches. That then leaves blindside and number 8 up for grabs.Taulupe Faletau and Ross Moriarty both had games which enhanced their claims for test positions. Faletau was tremendous making metes with the ball in hand and his try saving tackle was one of the highlights of the bleak night for the Lions. With his cousin big Billy out of the squad he is the favourite to start at 8 in he first test. Ross Moriarty is more of an outside bet, with players like CJ Stander still to play, but he was magnificent with the ball in hand and in the loose. He is exactly the kind of guy you’d want to back you up in a scrap and was not afraid of getting in the Barbarians faces. 

4. Battle of the 10s

It is inevitable that players will come in for criticism after below average performances and Jonny Sexton had a night to forget, as he struggled to impose himself on the game tactically. His coach has dismissed any suggestions he is behind Farrell in the pecking order as a result of the game as ‘unfair’. Gatland is far too experienced a coach to put such emphasis on one mediocre performance, but it’s undeniable how much more composed the Lions were once Farrell appeared. One number 10 who Gatland was happier to talk about was his son Bryn, who had an excellent game at flyhalf. Speaking about his son the Lions coach said “He played pretty well, he caused us a few problems, particularly with his kicking game.” Gatland Jr nearly inspired his side to an improbable upset but fortunately for his Dad his team fell just short.

5. Poor finishing

When Gatland and his team of coaches looking over the performance they will rue a night of missed chances. The Lions did perform well in flashes, but overall it was a performance that contained the cutting edge of a spoon. The tourists were held up over the line four times, and that number is indicative of the opportunities they had and missed. In fairness to the players they are still acclimatising, but if they fail to improve their finishing quick they will struggle against the ruthless Super Rugby teams. 


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