The British & Irish Lions kick off their 2017 tour of New Zealand in Whangarei tonight against the Provincial Barbarians.

It’s been a long time coming and they will be desperate to lay the ghosts of 2005 to rest. The ghosts will not disappear this evening, but it is the first step to redemption.

Their selection is an interesting one, and certainly provides some subtle insights around what we can expect on 24th June, because let’s face it, the tour is all about the test series for the Lions.

It's all about the Test Series.
It’s all about the Test Series.
Copyright photo: www.photosport.co.nz

For most Kiwis the tour is all about the test series as well, of that there is no doubt. The All Blacks and All Blacks supporters do not want to lose this test series. It would be akin to not winning a World Cup, make no mistake about that.

But for the players that are fortunate enough to pull on a jersey and face the might of the Home Unions their focus will be different. Their focus will be on a once-in-a-lifetime dream, a chance to make their friends and family proud. Who doesn’t want to score a try against the Lions?

Provincial Barbarians

And so to our Provincial Barbarians, a team that was loosely selected almost two months ago. The team gathered in Whangarei at the beginning of the week and has a solid representation from across New Zealand.

The main story, and rightfully so, is that of the Bryn Gatland, son of the Lion King himself.

Bryn Gatland of the Blues in action. Super Rugby match, Blues v Hurricanes at Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand. 15 April 2017 © Copyright Photo: Anthony Au-Yeung / www.photosport.nz
Bryn Gatland of the Blues in action. Super Rugby match, Blues v Hurricanes at Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand. 15 April 2017 © Copyright Photo: Anthony Au-Yeung / www.photosport.nz

But the selection is filled with wonderful nuances, subplots and a very blatant look to the future. The future of New Zealand rugby. This is the professional era and no matter what you think or what you’ve heard, this has development opportunity written all over it.

The Old Guard

But even through this development lens, the most important selections, certainly from where I am sitting, are those of Wanganui legend Peter Rowe and former Chiefs hero Dwayne Sweeney. The experience they bring is immeasurable. Their first class careers reach back into the early part of the century. They are there to nurture the next generation.

Provincial Barbarians
Wanganui legend and heroic stalwart Peter Rowe poses during the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians headshots session at Bruce Palmer Lodge on May 27, 2017 in Auckland, New Zealand.

Next Generation

And what a generation we have on display. There is rugby pedigree running through the veins of a vast number of the squad. A lot of the team have represented New Zealand at some stage so will be widely known to the powers that be. Names like Laulala, Gatland, and Goodhue excite the imagination. And to a certain extent, there will be very little pressure on them. The scoreboard will probably blow out, but even in that there is no real pressure. The pressure is all on the Lions for this one. Which takes me full circle back to them.

The Lions

There is no doubt that the Lions need this match to prepare themselves for what is coming up, what with the long flight and the absurdly busy itinerary. But no matter what the result is, they are going to struggle to be the winners.

The Lions training for the Provincial Barbarians
2017 British & Irish Lions Tour To New Zealand
British & Irish Lions Squad Training, QBE Stadium, Auckland, New Zealand 1/6/2017
Justin Tipuric, Kyle Sinckler, Rory Best, Jack McGrath and Peter O’Mahony
Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan / www.photosport.nz

If they win by 50 odd points they will learn very little, or at least nothing of substance; think back to the opening games of the 2007 RWC for the All Blacks. If they win by a point or two (which is very unlikely) there will be questions raised, both externally and internally. And the worst case scenario is that one of their illustrious stars gets injured, no one wants that.

Yes, the Lions are here and I for one have been counting down to this date since the final whistle was blown at Twickenham against the Aussies in 2015. I just hope that in 12 years we are looking back at this time as one of the great moments in our sporting rivalry.

To the Lions and their supporters, The 1014 welcomes you to New Zealand. We’ll be bringing you our thoughts and opinions throughout the series from The Shed.

From The Shed

For a more indepth discussion on the subtle selections that Gatland has made check out the video from The Shed and make sure you miss none of the upcoming action by subscribing to The 1014 YouTube channel. Get involved.

Photos: www.photosport.nz

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Author: Steven Prescott

I am a total sports fanatic; it is as simple as that. I love all sports, and when I’m not sitting at my computer living my dream with The 1014, I am planning adventures. The last time I did this I ended up convincing my wife to cycle 26,125km across three continents, and 22 countries with me as part of the Pedalling Prescotts.

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