Lions struggle to 13-7 win in New Zealand tour opener

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A Lions fan poses for a photo ahead of the first tour match between the British & Irish Lions and the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians in Whangarei.

A Lions fan poses for a photo ahead of the first tour match between the British & Irish Lions and the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians in Whangarei. (Photo: AP)

WHANGAREI, New Zealand (AP) — The British and Irish Lions stumbled to a 13-7 win over the semi-professional Provincial Barbarians in the opening match of their three-test rugby tour of New Zealand on Saturday.

The Lions, who arrived in New Zealand in the middle of the week, took 51 minutes to score their only try through winger Anthony Watson and were outplayed in most areas by a Barbarians side drawn from New Zealand's minor provinces.

"We were thrilled with the way the Barbarians played, a lot of ambition, they threw the ball around," Lions captain and Wales skipper Sam Warburton said. "That's a great sort of first hit-out for us ... we've got a lot of footage to work on."

"We gave away a few too many penalties at the end and let them back into a bit of territory," Warburton added. "A better team is going to punish us further down the line when we meet the Super Rugby sides. There's plenty for us to work on."

The Barbarians scored a 23rd-minute try through captain Sam Anderson-Heather which was created by flyhalf Bryn Gatland, the son of Lions coach Warren. Gatland stunned the Lions with an audacious up-and-under kick on attack, the Barbarians regathered the ball and Anderson-Heather scored on a pass from fullback Luteru Laulala.

The Lions narrowed the lead with a penalty to Scotland scrumhalf Greig Laidlaw in the first minute of the second half, then took the lead with Watson's try, which came from a period of steady pressure.

They were unable to maintain that pressure, however, and the Barbarians finished the match strongly, pressing for the try that might have given them an historic victory.

"All week we talked about the challenge ahead, a David and Goliath sort of match-up and I'm really proud of our squad going out there and giving it our all," Anderson-Heather said.

The first Lions test against the All Blacks is set for June 24 in Auckland.

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