The British & Irish Lions have arrived in New Zealand, as they prepare to begin their 2017 tour this week. Four years after beating Australia 2-1, the Lions are once again led by head coach Warren Gatland and captained by Sam Warburton.
Eden Park in Auckland – the venue that staged the 2011 World Cup final – will stage the first and last tests, whilst the WestPac stadium in Wellington, will host the other test.
The Lions will be looking for their first series win against New Zealand since 1971 – when Barry John earned his nickname ‘The King’. This will be the 12th tour of New Zealand by a Lions side, with the Lions last visiting in 2005. Sir Clive Woodard was the head coach in ’05 and the Lions suffered three heavy defeats.
The 2005 tour was marred by controversy, after Brian O’Driscoll was infamously dump tackled within two minutes of the opening test in Christchurch. The Lions captain suffered a dislocated shoulder and subsequently missed the remainder of the tour.
Gatland has selected one of the largest touring squads in Lions history. 41 players have been selected for the New Zealand tour, up four on the 37 selected in 2013 – whilst 16 of the squad members have retained their place from the Australia tour.
So far, the only withdrawals from the original 41 have been Billy Vunipola and Ben Youngs. 27-year-old Youngs dropped out of the squad due to personal reasons and he was replaced by Scotland’sGreg Laidlaw. Vunipola, however, had to withdraw due to a shoulder injury. The Saracens Number 8 has been replaced by 32 year-old England back-rower James Haskell.
Backs: Dan Biggar (Wales), Elliot Daly (England), Jonathan Davies (Wales), Owen Farrell (England), Leigh Halfpenny (Wales), Robbie Henshaw (Ireland), Stuart Hogg (Scotland), Jonathan Joseph (England), Greg Laidlaw (Scotland), Conor Murray (Ireland), George North (Wales), Jack Nowell (England), Jared Payne (Ireland), Jonathan Sexton (Ireland), Tommy Seymour (Scotland), Ben Te’o (England), Anthony Watson (England), Rhys Webb (Wales), Liam Williams (Wales).
Forwards: Rory Best (Ireland), Dan Cole (England), Taulupe Faletau (Wales), Tadhg Furlong (Ireland), Jamie George (England), James Haskell (England), Iain Henderson (Ireland), Maro Itoje (England), Alun Wyn Jones (Wales), George Kruis (England), Courtney Lawes (England), Joe Marler (England), Jack McGrath (Ireland), Ross Moriarty (Wales), Sean O’Brien (Ireland), Peter O’Mahony (Ireland), Ken Owens (Wales), Kyle Sinckler (England), CJ Stander (Ireland), Justin Tipuric (Wales), Mako Vunipola (England), Sam Warburton (Wales).
New Zealand are yet to announce their squad to take on the Lions this summer – but former Wales Head Coach, Steve Hansen, has a number of injury concerns. The All-Blacks are sweating on the fitness of captain Kieran Read, reigning World Player of the Year Beauden Barrett, hooker Dane Coles and full-back Israel Dagg.
Hansen, however, will still have a strong squad to choose from. Established veterans such as; Aaron Smith, Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks, Ben Smith, Julian Savea and Jerome Kaino should all be available for selection. Whilst emerging stars such as; Ardie Savea, Anton Lienert-Brown and Rieko Ioane should play integral roles.
Hansen could also select dangerous rookie Jordie Barrett. The 6ft 4 20 year-old is the younger brother of Beauden and has already toured with the All-Backs.
The 10 game series will see the Lions take on the five New Zealand Super Rugby franchises for the first time – with the NZRU agreeing the release of New Zealand internationals for the fixtures.
Saturday, June 3: New Zealand Provincial Barbarians in Whangarei
Wednesday, June 7: Blues in Auckland
Saturday, June 10: Crusaders in Christchurch
Tuesday, June 13: Highlanders in Dunedin
Saturday, June 17: Maori All Blacks in Rotorua
Tuesday, June 20: vs. Chiefs in Hamilton
Saturday, June 24: All Blacks in Auckland
Tuesday, June 27: Hurricanes in Wellington
Saturday, July 1: vs All Blacks in Wellington
Saturday, July 8: vs All Blacks in Auckland
All kick-offs will be 8:35am BST, subject to change. All matches will be shown live on Sky Sports, whilst talkSPORT will provide live radio commentary.
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