The fireworks which lit up the crisp Whangarei air high above Toll Stadium before this extraordinary match kicked off had little on the collisions against the famous visitors by the players from the second tier of the game here or the shining star quality of one Bryn Gatland.

This, unfortunately for the British and Irish Lions, was a damp squib of a performance in the opening match of their highly anticipated tour.

And for that Clayton McMillan's unheralded men deserve a huge amount of credit. The Lions only arrived in the country on Wednesday but the bulk of their squad had been together for more than two weeks, honing combinations and analysing their opposition, many of whom would struggle to be recognised in their own street.

The Baabaas had been together only since last Saturday, and they didn't bother with the analysis bit - they concentrated only on themselves and their performance and boy did that get that right.


There was plenty of talk beforehand about the merits of Lions' first-fives Jonathan Sexton, who started, and Owen Farrell, who began this match on the bench, but it's no exaggeration to say that 22-year-old Gatland was the best No10 on the field.

There was a hint from dad Warren that his boy might have to do a bit of tackling, but it was the youngster, who used to knock around with the Wales players in the Lions' squad as a 15-year-old, handing out the physical stuff; wrestling with prop Joe Marler at the start and then second-five Ben Te'o.

Sexton missed his first kick for goal and then kicked the ball out on the full. Gatland, bouncing around like an indestructible rubber ball, put up the attacking bomb which led to hooker Sam Anderson-Heather's extremely popular try, and kept the opposition on the run with his kicking game, leaving them confused and second-guessing themselves and their teammates.

Clubs in the United Kingdom and Europe might be asked around for his phone number.

The Lions, meanwhile, looked sluggish in mind and foot. One can only imagine what the Blues or the Crusaders, the latter with their feet up after a torrid victory over the Highlanders earlier in the day, thought of this.

The Blues host the Lions on Wednesday, and Scott Robertson's men play the Lions in Christchurch next Saturday and, having watched the Barbarians push Warren Gatland's pack around, and the backs run rings around the visitors, the Crusaders should feel confident of a earning a famous scalp.

Those Lions that did watch that match would have noted the skill, speed and both teams' ability to turn defence into attack. Here, they encountered it in the flesh, the desperation of the tackling by the home side to deny both Anthony Watson and Stuart Hogg what appeared to be certain first-half tries must have exasperated and impressed opposition coach Gatland in equal measure.

The intensity of the Baabaas' efforts, and the quality of the Lions' bench, meant maintaining their halftime lead was always going to be extremely difficult. But all of their players, from loosehead prop Aidan Ross, to replacement back Joe Webber, will be able to tell of the time they led the famous visitors 7-3 at halftime in the Far North.


And of them all, it is perhaps Bryn Gatland, the man who couldn't win a Super Rugby contract and has been in and out of the Crusaders and Blues this year as injury cover, who will have the most contented smile.