In the end it was Shanklin and Peel who came up trumps to provide a less than impressive winning start for the Lions. It was a proud moment for the five Welshmen as they took to the pitch in Rotorua for the first of eleven matches on this testing tour Down Under.
It took just a few moments for one of that quintet, Peel, to get in on the act. Peel, looking as lively as he has been all season for Wales, played a significant part in the opening try of this opening game - from Josh Lewsey inside two minutes. O'Gara miscued the ensuing conversion and missed a second seven minutes later after Lewsey once again nipped in on the left flank for the Lions' second try. The double whammy certainly negated the Bay's planned assault and within ten minutes the Lions had set out their stall.
Gavin Henson and Tom Shanklin were both able to enjoy plenty of ball, whilst Williams was quick to prove himself a key member of a vastly experienced back row boasting nearly 200 international caps. A wonderful cross-field kick from Ronan O'Gara on thirteen minutes gifted Mark Cueto his first try in a Lions shirt although it had been Shanklin's dashing break and earlier surge which had earned O'Gara time and space in which to choose his option.
The Bay did manage a try of their own on seventeen minutes when O'Gara missed a crucial tackle on the right and allowed Colin Bourke, the No.8, to ease his way in for Murray Williams to convert.
The Lions suffered a massive set back four minutes later when Lawrence Dallaglio was stretchered off with a suspected broken ankle and that certainly took the shine off what had been a wonderful start for the tourists. Martyn Williams was key to the defensive in the fifteen minutes leading up to half time, but he could do little to prevent the Bay cutting the deficit still further courtesy of a Murray Williams penalty.
A missed tackle, from O'Gara and O'Driscoll, allowed the Bay a sniff of a half time share of the spoils and Murray Williams accepted it with both hands. His try and conversion left the sides all tied up at 17-17 at the interval.
Shanklin should have made Henson's pass a try scoring one a minute into the second half, but the Blues wing spilt the ball with the line at his mercy. The Lions became increasingly desperate as the half wore on although they were winning a far greater percentage of the ball. They enjoyed just 33% possession in the first half. Now, they were well on top and it was the Bay who were looking over their shoulders. It was Shanklin who came up trumps; his break and dive earning the Lions a decisive score just when they needed it.
A Murray Williams penalty on the hour, after namesake Martyn had been penalised for hands at the ruck, cut the lead to a couple of points and from that juncture it was a case of holding on. Peel's try ten minutes from time certainly eased the nerves a little and when Lewsey broke through seven minutes later to help Gordon D'Arcy in for a try with his first touch of the ball, it was all over.
Lions v Bay of Plenty
Tries: Lewsey (2), Cueto, Shanklin, Peel, D'Arcy
Con: O'Gara (2)
Bay of Plenty
Tries: Bourke, Williams
Con: Williams (2)
Pen: Williams (2)