Lions given perfect wake-up call in Whangarei

2:10 PM BST

TOLL STADIUM, Whangarei — The British & Irish Lions are struggling with jet-lag, but the test the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians posed was just the wake-up call they needed.

Warren Gatland has never blamed the schedule, but did allude to its brutality after seeing his side squeeze through the tour opener 13-7 in Whangarei.

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The Lions squandered try-scoring opportunities and accuracy was at a premium, but Gatland preferred to look at the match in fairly black and white terms, without drawing too many quick conclusions from a sub-par performance.

Having landed on Wednesday, a number of the squad and backroom staff are still struggling with jet-lag and they looked nervy. But the scoreline could have been far more comfortable for the Lions had they converted four potential try-scoring opportunities in the first half.

Pinpointing that accuracy and developing an ability to finish attacking moves is high up on Gatland’s agenda as they turn attention to the Blues on Wednesday.

Lions prop Tadhg Furlong following the final whistle in Whangarei. Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

“It was a tough match, very tough,” Gatland said. “We’ve learnt a lot tonight in terms of how tough it is to come to New Zealand, how motivated the teams are going to be against us.

“We created a number of opportunities, we just need to be a bit more clinical in terms of finishing that. We got held up over the line about four times and if we’re a bit more clinical and finish those opportunities then the game is reasonably comfortable.

“It was a tough hit out for us but there were some positives and things to work on for us too.”

Gatland was impressed by the impact the bench had, but is unlikely to draw definitive conclusions on potential Test candidates after just one match.

Johnny Sexton walks off the pitch after their narrow victory over the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians. David Rogers/Getty Images

“There are certain things that we will look at individually, decision-making in tonight’s game and where we can improve,” Gatland said. “That’s the learning from tonight, there’s a number of things that collectively we can get better at and there’s probably, individually some of the things, some of the decision-making from us that will help us improve going into the next couple of games.”

Up next are the Blues, the first of five Super Rugby franchises the Lions will face. They would have seen the Lions profligacy and struggles under the high ball, but will be facing an altogether different team on Wednesday at Eden Park.

Gatland will make 15 changes to the starting line-up for their next hit out, while those who started in Whangarei will have Sunday off, before returning to training on Monday. The Lions will monitor Ross Moriarty and Kyle Sinckler who are both struggling with back spasms after the long-haul flight.

The Lions coach said he would never use the schedule as an excuse for a slow start, but did say that in an ideal world they would have had a complete week in New Zealand before playing their first match. With jet-lag still an issue — Gatland said coach Andy Farrell was in the team room at 4 a.m. having given up on trying to sleep — the Lions hope to be acclimatised by the time they get to Eden Park.

British & Irish Lions captain Sam Warburton played 67 minutes in the win over NZ Barbarians. David Rogers/Getty Images

Captain Sam Warburton has been bullish about the schedule since arriving in New Zealand and hopes his team will learn from their slow start against the Barbarians.

“We get thrown into difficult situations but that’s how you find out about yourself as a team,” Warburton said. “It’s good we’ve got some footage to work off and now we’ll get back in the training. They tested us and it was a good first game to have. You’d much rather have that than a 50-point win. As long as we keep on learning then I’ll be happy with that.”

Gatland’s Lions now go to Waitangi for their welcome ceremony before travelling to Auckland to start preparations for the Blues. Saturday night’s game has been the perfect wake-up call.

“We know how tough the next few weeks are going to be,” Gatland said. “Getting that game under our belt today is going to hold us in good stead going forward. There is obviously things for us to work on but we will improve from tonight’s performance, definitely.”

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