Having played a prominent role in the British and Irish Lions narrow victory over the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians to get their tour of New Zealand off to a victorious start, Ben Te’o admitted that the 15 players who started the match are already at a disadvantage in trying to get into the Test side, having played just three days after making the two-day flight from London.
The England centre made a telling contribution in his first outing for the Lions as they fought from behind to clinch a 13-7 victory at Toll Stadium in Whangarei. With Anthony Watson’s try and eight points from the combined boots of Jonathan Sexton, Greig Laidlaw and Owen Farrell.
But the fact that the game was taking place just 72 hours after the Lions touched down in Auckland meant that the players had to cope with more than just the physical opposition that stood in their way, with the players struggling to sleep in the days leading up to the match as they remained jetlagged due to the intense schedule.
Te’o admitted that with each player likely to receive just two chances to impress head coach Warren Gatland before he selects his team for the first Test against the All Blacks, the players who started Saturday’s match were at a disadvantage from having to play when energy levels were not at maximum.
“Yes, you might be slightly disadvantaged compared to if you are playing on Wednesday,” Te’o said after the match. “In teams like this, with so many special players, you just have to take your chances, you just have to do what you are going to do.
“Maybe you should have got to the semi-finals or finals with your club team, and you’d be playing on Wednesday. Get knocked out early, you play in this 1st game.
“I expected a tough game like that. Obviously the preparation’s been very short, not long getting off the plane. The boys are still a little bit jetlagged, but no excuse, we had to come here and play hard, they were a good side, dug deep, we got tested and that’s what we wanted.”
Lions vs New Zealand Provincial Barbarians player ratings
Te’o, who was born in Auckland and made his name in rugby league before heading to Europe, joined the rest of the squad on Sunday in travelling to Waitangi Treaty Grounds where they were welcomed by a special Maori greeting, which saw one of the largest Powhiri’s in the last 30 years take place in glorious sunshine.
But attentions were not far away from rugby and in particular Wednesday’s next tour match against the Blues, the Super Rugby side that will pose much bigger competition than the Provincial Barbarians did – a daunting prospect for the side if they repeat Saturday’s performance.
Yet Te’o was is confident that the squad will continue to gel better as the get to know each other, with the added bonus that the jetlag should clear before the Eden Park encounter. The centre hopes that this will help the side begin to take their chances, having missed a number of opportunities to score on Saturday as they were held up four times when crossing the try line, which ultimately led to the nervy finish and narrow victory when the Lions could have been out of sight.
“You’ve got to be frustrated with a few missed opportunities,” he added. “There were two or three tries left out there early on. This is a new team, a new bunch of guys that haven’t been together long. Those are things we can work on. I think we showed character and a bit of grit and that’s good going forward.”
“If I’m honest, the last three days have been really tough. Waking up at 1am in the morning, some guys getting one or two hours sleep. The boys are really, really tired before training, before games. But we’ve got to push through and over the next few days, it’s going to get a lot easier. The guys playing on Wednesday will probably be feeling a lot better than the guys playing today.
The squad flew back from Waitangi to Auckland on Sunday where they will prepare for Wednesday’s match, before continuing their journey south to Christchurch where they will face the Crusaders at the weekend.