Lions who? Rugby what? We asked sports reporter Kirstie Stanway to share the ten things you need to know about the tour.
Kirstie writes: If you are anything like me you would have experienced two Lions tours to New Zealand, but let’s be honest, you probably don’t remember the last time they were here. That’s because it only happens once every 12 years, so here’s a wee cheat sheet to get you through any conversation and show all the visitors you are totally up with the play. Once you’ve studied the below, head to these sports-lovers’ haunts and flash your newfound facts around.
Let’s start off with the basics: just who are The British and Irish Lions? The team comprises the very best talent from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. There are 41 blokes on tour, but just three of those are from Scotland.
The Lions only come to the land of the long white cloud once every 12 years and that’s why it is such a special part of New Zealand’s rich, rugby culture.
And so it’s also a very long wait for redemption. The Lions’ last trip south in 2005 was labelled a disaster, after the All Blacks came out trumps in all three Test matches.
As the Lions learnt in 2005, victories are hard to come by, but winning the tour is even tougher. The tourists have only succeeded once before, winning the series way back in 1971.
So the Lions’ head honchos thought it would be a good idea to get a kiwi on board, and just like that, Hamilton-born Warren Gatland was appointed head coach. Interestingly Gatland’s son Bryn played against the Lions in their tour opener with the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians.
Warren Gatland’s not the only kiwi flavour in enemy territory – Irish utility back Jared Payne hails from Tauranga, Mako Vunipola grew up in Wellington, and then there is Auckland-born English midfielder Ben Te’o.
The kiwis may be able to help the Lions find the best flat white, but that won’t help with the tough schedule. The Lions play 10 games in New Zealand between June 3 and July 8, that’s one match every three and a half days. The visitors play all five Super Rugby franchises, three Tests against the All Blacks, one against the Maori All Blacks and they opened with the Provincial Barbarians.
There are seven venues spread across the country; Whangarei, Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin, Rotorua, Hamilton and Wellington.
Welshman Sam Warburton is the tour captain and just like Kieran Read he too is very experienced. Warburton captained the Lions to victory over our arch-rivals Australia in 2013 (and he’s not bad looking either).
This last one is purely for the ladies. Each squad member was given 64 items of clothing from chinos to collar stiffeners and everything in between, but the most expensive piece is a velvet jacket worth $1117 each.