When we spoke to John Hayes during the week about his experiences on the 2005 and 2009 Lions Tours, he mentioned how he got himself so worked up in his first appearance in 2005 that he played really poorly and damaged his chances of featuring in the Test side for that Tour.
There is always a pressure on players, especially in the first game of a Lions Tour. They get the first opportunity to lay down a marker, to put the pressure and focus on their colleagues who are vying it out for their position.
In this morning’s 13-7 victory over the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians – there were some good performances but also many poor ones. For the players who played poorly, they will get another opportunity to prove that it was a once off but they will certainly be feeling the pressure over the next few weeks.
Here, we take a look at those who did their Test chances no harm and those who self-inflicted a lot of damage on themselves.
What. A. Game.
Faletau was absolutely brilliant. 11 carries, 38 metres made, two clean linebreaks and three defenders beaten. Defensively, he was phenomenal. 14 tackles and not one missed.
Stats can often be misleading but in this case, they represent the absolute dominance the Bath man displayed. Of course, he will face sterner tests ahead but this performance will alleviate the fears of Billy Vunipola’s withdrawal from the squad. A deserved man-of-the-match performance.
Was the most threatening of the Lions’ backline. Constantly made ground with ball in hand and was always looking for the offload. Many were surprised when he was called in by Warren Gatland but it looks to be a shrewd move from the Kiwi. Didn’t miss a tackle and made a whopping 87 metres. Huge statement from the Worcester Warriors man who now must be one of the favourites for the 12 shirt when it comes to Test match time.
The best word to sum up the English man’s performance. He was everywhere. He held his own at scrum time but in the loose, he was on another level altogether. He made five carries but it was the tenacity he brought with the ball in hand that was most impressive, even from a standing start he did well to get over the gain line. He showed some excellent passing skills too throughout the game, too.
There is a real battle now between himself and Tadhg Furlong going forward which can only be good for the squad.
Moriarty showed relentless work rate throughout this game and with doubts over CJ Stander’s fitness due to a troubling ankle injury, this performance will definitely please the Lions coaching staff. He put in some huge hits throughout the game and like Te’o and Faletau, made some serious metres throughout the game.
It was really disappointing to see Sexton put in such an abject performance. On his day, he is undoubtedly one of the best fly-halves in the world but his performance was like that of the PRO12 semi-final against the Scarlets – error-strewn.
With the conditions as bad as they were, it was a day for control and precision from the out-half but he just couldn’t provide that platform. Missed placed kicks and unforced errors riddled his game and unfortunately for the Irishman, Owen Farrell looks to have gained an edge on the 31-year-old.
Like Sexton, you need composure in the full-back position in conditions like today but Hogg just didn’t provide that. One kick through bobbled towards him but he seemed to be more concerned about the onrushing Barbarians player rather than the ball and knocked on disappointingly. He butchered a 2 v 1 situation when Anthony Watson was sure to go over in the corner and he was caught out when catching a ball with his foot in touch.
Saying that, Hogg improved as the game went on and showed some nice play in attack but he will need to up his game over the coming weeks or the All Blacks will definitely target him in the Test matches.
Everyone else on the team were below their best and will need to do better – that much is certain. It is worth saying that the team have just arrived in New Zealand so there is no need to panic yet. They will improve as the weeks go on and the errors we saw this morning should diminish over time.
A win is a win and there seem to be no major injury concerns. Time to move on.
Next up is the Auckland Blues on Wednesday.[gravityform id=”1″ title=”true” description=”true”]