After the British and Irish Lions’ less than convincing 13-7 victory over the New Zealand Barbarians many media hacks in both hemispheres have already sounded the death knell for the ten-match tour.
But do first impressions really count? We raise five questions for the Lions team, which need urgent answers.
1. Jet Lag Or Just Bad?
These are the two most prominent explanations circulating following the scrappy victory. The majority of the Lions (except for Talupe Faletau, Ben Te’o and Ross Moriarty) looked very heavy-legged and sluggish against the semi-professional Barbarians.
Warren Gatland has said that the players were taking sleep medication to counter the 13-hour time difference. Will the Lions wake up in time to take on the Blues on Wednesday?
2. Is It Concerning That The Fastest Player On The Pitch Seemed To Be Luteru Laulala?
Laulala made a scintillating break in the first half, which would’ve led to a try had it not been for Faletau’s cover tackling heroics. Laulala has an excellent pedigree, coming from the stable of four Laulala brothers, two of which (Casey and Nepo) have represented the All Blacks.
However, the fact that the 22-year-old made players like Anthony Watson and Stuart Hogg look pedestrian is a worrying sign when you consider that Laulala was unable to secure a Super Rugby contract and the fact that the Lions will face all five New Zealand Super Rugby sides.
3. Was This Performance Just A Brilliant Tactical Bluff By Gatland And His Troops?
Justin Marshall, the former All Black halfback turned Sky commentator thinks so. He rather generously put forward the theory that the locomotive-like tactics employed by the Lions in Whangarei were in essence similar to those used by the All Blacks in their rather underwhelming pool games at the 2015 World Cup.
However, if we rate the New Zealand Barbarians as equal to the Georgian national team, the All Black version of ‘keeping cards close to the chest’ finished as a 43-10 victory. If Marshall is right, this is a masterstroke of lulling the opposition into a sense of complacency.
4. Was The Monster Hit On Alun Wyn Jones A Sign Of Things To Come?
In short, yes. The reserve prop for the Barbarians absolutely flattened Wyn Jones, and the Lions should expect more of the same beginning with a Blues side packed full of powerful tacklers like All Blacks Sonny Bill Williams, Steven Luatua and Patrick Tuipulotu.
5. Does This ‘Challenging’ Itinerary Mean That Warren Gatland Should Be Tried For Treason?
By the end of this week, an answer to this question should be forthcoming. The Lions face the Blues on Wednesday and the Crusaders on Saturday. Both sides are expected to call up most of their All Blacks for the games, which therefore could see the Lions face at least five All Blacks in the Blues side and a potential further ten in the Crusaders squad.
The Crusaders also happen to be on a 14-game winning streak in Super Rugby. The Lions will improve -that can be assumed – but will the acclimatisation and combinations come together in time to compete with a side which has been playing red hot rugby since late February?
Kaal Kaczmarek, Pundit Arena