Ulster's Lions set to roar in Tour opener

Alan Olson
June 3, 2017

The Lions landed in Auckland on Wednesday and will face the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians just three days later, but tour manager Spencer insisted Warren Gatland's men are happy with their plans.

The three-match series against the world champions is the focal point of the tour and victory in those encounters is what the Lions covet most, even if that means losing to New Zealand's five Super Rugby franchises and the Maori All Blacks.

"I don't care how we win", Warburton said. But that works both ways as the Lions won't want to risk starting any of their Test lineup, and while some will have to pull bench duty you'd think they'll only get game time if absolutely necessary.

Welsh halfback Gareth Edwards remembers being "nearly decapitated" by Wyllie but the New Zealander claims he was a non-combatant when McLoughlin swung the haymaker that broke his thumb.

All Blacks skipper Kieran Read continues to tick along nicely for an injury return in his side's first British and Irish Lions Test.

"I've built a good relationship with big VC (Cotter) over time with Scotland and I've certainly got a lot of respect for him, but whenever I'm given an opportunity it's up to me to show what I'm all about and bring my strengths to the table", said Laidlaw. One of the things I've always found about New Zealand is how friendly and welcoming the people are when we get here, which is probably why it's my favourite place to play rugby in the world, outside of my home country.

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"It's a great opportunity for the players selected in the first match to go out there and lay down a marker".

"The focus is very much on us going into this game".

Gatland stressed the importance for the morale of the squad to get the tour off to a convincing start, and his put the onus on his players to deliver the result against the makeshift New Zealand side.

After being named as a shock Lions call-up Sinckler said: "If I am not excited about going out there to hit people for a living, then I don't want to play the game". "I want the players to put us coaches under pressure and make the job hard for us in terms of selection and who we pick when it comes to the first Test". The Lions should win, but $8.50 for them to win by 12 & under can't be sniffed at.

Southern hemisphere rugby bosses have long eyed the Asian markets as a potential for future growth, with the introduction of a Super Rugby team in Japan seen as important in establishing a foothold in the region.

McMillan has paid close attention to Steve Borthwick's lineouts with England, and Andy Farrell's Ireland defensive systems, and expects similar operations on Saturday - "there's a little bit of crystal-ball gazing", McMillan said - but their approach has been heavily weighted in introspection rather than speculating over what the Lions may throw at them.

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