"Pathetic" and "incompetent" are two words Warren Gatland would not have expected to be used in describing his British and Irish Lions' tour opener, but New Zealand rugby pundits did not hold back after Saturday's laboured victory over the Barbarians.

The Lions, who are expected to provide the All Blacks with their sternest challenge since the 1971 series-winning side, limped to a 13-7 win in Whangarei against a 'Baabaas' team drawn from New Zealand's semi-professional provincial competition.

Lions coach Gatland said after the game that several members of his side were still dealing with jet lag, having arrived in the country for their 10-match tour only on Wednesday, and lacked cohesion due to a disrupted build-up before they left the northern hemisphere.

However, former All Blacks prop Richard Loe, a provincial and international team-mate of Gatland, wrote in his New Zealand Herald column on Sunday that the Lions could not hide behind excuses after their poor performance.

"The Lions and their management must do some immediate temple massaging after scraping home against the Baabaas," Loe wrote.

"There will be apologists, but that was horrible and they'd better get their act together. That was pathetic."

Rugby writer and sports historian Phil Gifford was similarly scathing in his column in the Sunday Star Times.

"In blunt terms the Lions looked incompetent," Gifford wrote.

"How could a team stacked with nothing but internationals for so long look so leaden footed, so lacking in confidence they took kicks at goal instead of looking for tries from a lineout, so lacking in co-ordination and attacking ideas?"

New Zealand Herald rugby journalist Gregor Paul was a little more circumspect, refusing to consign the tour to the dustbin after just one match.

However, he said the pace of the game in New Zealand could prove decisive, with a massive step up needed for the clash on Wednesday against Super Rugby's Auckland Blues.

"The real issue was that the Lions looked decidedly pedestrian in all that they did," Paul wrote. "The Lions struggled with the pace of the game - not so much physically, but mentally.

"They didn't have the natural instincts to pounce on opportunities when they came.

"When the opposition become highly motivated Super Rugby teams, the opportunities for the Lions will have an even shorter shelf-life and the reaction times have to be phenomenally good to see, react and expose."