The British and Irish Lions flew to New Zealand
While the emphasis will be on being good ambassadors on tour and on not locking themselves away from the New Zealand public, there is a realisation that they will be taking on a nation as well as a series of formidable teams over the next weeks.
As a Kiwi, coach Warren Gatland knows how New Zealanders think and he has warned his squad that any chink of weakness they show will be ruthlessly exploited.
“Gats has spoken a lot about the home support and how they will try to make our life a bit uncomfortable,” said stand-off Dan Biggar.
“We have to make sure we are in a bubble when we are in our hotels, on our training grounds and at games. We have to make sure it is just us as a group out there and not let anything from the outside put us off on or off the field.”
British & Irish Lions squad for 2017 New Zealand tour Mon, May 22, 2017
Express Sport runs through the confirmed Lions squad for the 2017 tour to New Zealand
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Express Sport runs through the 37-man Lions squad ahead of the New Zealand tour
Gats has spoken a lot about the home support and how they will try to make our life a bit uncomfortable
For a squad drawn from four separate nations which was only finally assembled on Sunday, such unity will be hard to create but they are trying. The choir practice has been paying dividends judging by the performance at Sunday evening’s send-off dinner in London and when they reach New Zealand they will be sharing rooms to help foster bonds.
“I made the decision when coming down to breakfast that I did not want to be with players from my club or country because a tour like this is about getting on with guys you did not think you would get on with; you find out they are really good blokes and you get on well. That is really important and almost as useful as what we do on the field,” said Biggar.
“There are a couple of characters in the squad – Ben Te’o and Kyle Sinckler. They are really good value off the field. Players like that are important when you are away from home for six weeks.”
For Biggar, the business of bonding involved reaching out in particular to his stand-off rivals Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell during last week’s training camp in Ireland.
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“What I have found interesting is the amount you pick up off them,” said Biggar. “We have chats after training and talk about tactics. The two have so much knowledge and it is really interesting. Johnny and I have got on really well and after playing so often against him, it is good to be on the same side. Being with them gives you a good perspective on No 10 play. We are not holding anything back from each other.
“I am looking forward to challenging him and Owen but the greater aim is to win the Test series so if any of us has any knowledge that can help the team win games from small detail, it is important we put it out there. “We are all confident characters who are not afraid to speak our minds and say what we think. That will suit the team well. On the field, you want your 10 to have a bit of authority and then confidence to push you around the field rather than do it softly-softly and when it comes to putting your foot down you are not taken as firmly as you would like.
“We are competing for the same position and we all want to play in that 10 shirt but we will all back whoever is playing in all the games because we have the chance to achieve something historic.”
Only once has a Lions team returned triumphant from a tour to New Zealand. Food for thought on the long flight.
Lions boss Warren Gatland expects a rough time from rival supporters
Given the nature of the opposition in a 10-game schedule described as “suicidal” by Graham Henry, this could arguably be graded the toughest tour of them all.
“The majority of New Zealand’s Super Rugby teams are flying and playing really good rugby. It will be a huge task for us, and not just the three Tests. The games against the Super teams will be hugely important as well,” said Biggar.
“They seem to have a conveyor belt of talent: they lose Dan Carter and they have Beauden Barrett and Aaron Cruden. The challenge is going to be huge in the Test series and there will be no greater one in our careers. We all have the opportunity to paint ourselves in a really good light.”