Time is running out, the date is closing in and the attention is focusing onto the British and Irish Lions tour, 2017. And when the tourists step off that inbound Qantas flight from London to Auckland in just a few days time, it will be ‘rugby central’ for the majority of fans of the game.
The rehearsals have been made over the last few weeks, with head coach Warren Gatland still devising his assault on the World Champions. He had started with a small group, and as the knockout results have allowed, more and more Lions squad members were invited to train. A couple of late injury withdrawals, but hey that’s rugby.
The All Blacks too had some issues with fitness, but as the 2017 tour pinboard will illustrate–it’s all part of the bigger picture. The biggest tour in 12 years…..The Lions, in New Zealand!!
British and Irish Lions ‘2017 Tour Pinboard’
Practice Makes Perfect
Known for his meticulous planning and analysis, the word out of Britain is that Gatland has put his heart and soul into preparations. Practice has been a part of it, but there has been a something a little bigger than your ‘average team session’. Every squad meeting has improved the groups culture. And while that seems over-directed, this time it is from a viewpoint of respect.
“When the Lions came to New Zealand in ’71 and beat the All Blacks, it had a significant impact on me.”
In a way, Warren Gatland’s goal is to replicate the 1971 tour. To head downunder, and upset the world’s best. It will be hard, and the team will need to be focused (aware of potential distractions). And that is a major undertaking. Some wonder if it is too ‘over the top’ and has gone away from any type of celebration of rugby.
Warren Gatland admits Lions need to learn lessons from previous tour disasters in New Zealand. @danscho1 reports – https://t.co/2W8OPAod5l pic.twitter.com/zJWl1uZi7c
— Telegraph Rugby (@TelegraphRugby) April 22, 2017
The one thing that is certainly up on the Lions tour pinboard is the mantra “Win the Tour”.
Injury Report Update
Sam Warburton has been pushing tin in the gym and has steadily been running and regaining his fitness. Announcements this week that he was on course to play on tour were received with delight by the tourists. No good selecting a man who won’t play, and his game fitness will need to be up to speed. Expect Warburton to play on June 3 v Provincial Barbarians.
All Blacks captain Kieran Read too has been building his fitness upward. A broken thumb affects not only defense; tackling, holding the ball and scrum work, but also in his self confidence. Re-signing with NZ Rugby, the Crusaders and back to his old province of Counties-Manukau, Read will be in the same boat as Warburton. Needing time on the field.
LIONS SQUAD UPDATE | Billy Vunipola withdraws from British & Irish Lions. James Haskell joins the squad
Full story: https://t.co/F5nS2CsxiL pic.twitter.com/bKJBZcY0k0
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) May 21, 2017
The worst news was for Billy Vunipola. Suffering an shoulder injury, he was forced to withdraw. That has opened his seat on the plane for the unwanted James Haskell. While a great fit, he will need to engage with Gatland to renew the confidence that he will work for the group. One team, one goal.
Lions Tour, Highlight of Players Careers
On New Zealand television this week, a program played. Rugby; Pride on the Line. A jam-packed show with interviews, anecdotes and footage of past tours. The strong history, from 1888 up to the last tour of 2005 shined the light on the antitheses of the tour: provincial pride.
In particular, former All Black captain Sir Brian Lochore reminisced on his first exposure to playing the Lions. “I was 18, and it was one of my first provincial games. I can remember Tony O’Reilly scooping down the sideline and scoring a try”. The 11-37 result was the first of Lochore’s three Lions tour experiences, and for any provincial player that has ever had the opportunity, treasures that moment.
The test matches have always taken the focus, but a ten week tour includes matches over the whole country. From Whangarei to Dunedin, and while they only face the Super Rugby franchises, but they will encounter the New Zealand Maori team. And the pride; mana, that side holds is immense.
The British and Irish Lions history of games against the provinces is an analysis in the locals embracing the team. And the Maori have always demonstrated that best. On June 17, this will be the unofficial fourth test.
Traveling Supporters Check Their Itinerary
Passport; check. Luggage; check. Lions merchandise; cha-ching! Not only do the visiting ‘red army’ league of supporters need to check off their lists, they will also require the requisite merchandise.
The shirt, the bright red shirt. It is Iconic! Fans still wear their shirts around, in a similar way to the All Blacks jersey. And the Lions touring group will be visible to the eye, and to the ear. In discussions with fellow commentators, the acknowledgement that the tourists will have the most vocal support…..and that standout red colour.
Tour manager John Spencer has the best advice for fans traveling to New Zealand;
Get Learning with the Lions and help grow the game in your community!
Register now! https://t.co/0YZeteN5if pic.twitter.com/6io8yEVtIH
— British&Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) May 26, 2017
With just a week until the tour begins proper, notes and messages placed on the 2017 Tour Pinboard will include updates on the squads, results and any funny or insightful points. So for fans of rugby, for fans of sport in general, begin your own preparations as the once in every 12 year celebration gets set to start on June 3.
And may the best team win!!
New LWOR Poll Question:
“Main photo credit”