Tuesday, 16 July, 2019

Sam Warburton to captain British and Irish Lions in tour opener

Vera Richards | 01 June, 2017, 01:41

Stephen Jones has written a column in the current issue of Rugby World bemoaning the fact that too often coaches dominate the build-up to games with tit-for-tat comments directed at each other.

"You just want to get that Lions jersey in your kitbag, and actually say you've played for the Lions on this tour, so obviously I'm desperate to be involved in the first game".

"In 2013, I was there the whole time, and to have only been there for "messy Monday" (Lions player administration day on May 8) and the day I fly, is completely different". It's nicer to be longer than that. "That welcome was great for us, as soon as we hit the ground".

Back at base, players will check a colour-coded daily activity planner to ensure they understand the requirements of media and sponsors, a vital aspect of a tour which is expected to generate an estimated NZ$25 million ($17 million) profit for New Zealand rugby. Had that been the arrangement, the Lions' farewell dinner on Sunday night would have been sparsely attended!

"It's two-fold. It's going to be the best preparation in terms of those guys are going to be match-hardened to New Zealand conditions, New Zealand rugby", the former Auckland and North Harbour coach said. We don't mind the schedule at all. We had 12 of us in rucks at times. "So that aspect is disappointing, but that's our lot, that's what we have to react to".

"I guess there will be a plan there as to when they put their Test side out, how far into the tour".

Warburton was forced to wait until the third match of the tour four years ago as a knee injury meant that he missed the early warm-up matches against the Barbarians and the Western Force, meaning the captain was actually among the final members of the original squad to wear the Lions shirt in action.

Lions' manager John Spencer responded to the welcome on behalf of the team, who then replied with a hymn. Choir practice is clearly paying off.

Ireland's Jonny Sexton will start in the number 10 jersey with Scottish halfback Laidlaw being named in the starting side after getting a late call-up to the touring squad.

Name game: Bryn Gatland in Super Rugby action for the Blues.

"I've spent 11 weeks here [across 2011 World Cup and 2016 tour], I'm quite used to that welcome and really enjoy it", Warburton said. Despite having a serious strength in depth across the squad, losing the likes of Barrett and his fellow starters will, at the very least, offer something of a confidence boost for the newly arrived tourists. "People are panicking because he's not goal-kicking for the (Wellington) Hurricanes. It's a fantastic achievement for him and he's got a lot of potential".

"We've had some decent frost down here this morning and another couple of weeks it's going to get harder", he said.

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