The British and Irish Lions are set for a demanding 10-match trip to New Zealand, including three Tests against the world champion All Blacks.
Here, we look at five things you might not know about the 2017 tourists.
A record not to shout about
If the Lions’ history of Test matches against New Zealand could be compared to a boxing bout, then the referee would have stopped it long ago. The Lions’ 2017 excursion is their 12th New Zealand trip, stretching back 109 years, but in 38 Tests spanning that period, they have won just six, drawn three and lost 29. On three separate occasions – 1966, 1983 and 2005 – they suffered series whitewashes, so the challenge is an enormous one.
Storming fortress Eden Park
Auckland’s rugby citadel has proved a remarkable venue for the All Blacks in recent times. They are unbeaten there for 37 Tests since France toppled them in July 1994 and the Lions meet New Zealand twice there in three games this time around. The 23-year unbeaten record has seen New Zealand defeat the likes of Australia, South Africa, England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and the Lions.
Rekindling the spirit of 1971
Although the Lions have visited New Zealand on 12 separate occasions, only once have they returned with a Test series triumph – and that was 46 years ago. On that occasion, the Lions took a squad of 33 players and played 26 games – winning 23, drawing one and losing two. This time around, the Lions will have 41 players for 10 games and while top-flight rugby union is unrecognisable now from 1971 in terms of its physical demands, the current Lions are sure to be inspired by their predecessors.
Leading from the front
When it comes to captains and leadership qualities, the Lions are not lacking, with Wales’ immediate past skipper Sam Warburton and current leader Alun Wyn Jones both in the squad, together with present Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw and Ireland skipper Rory Best. Warburton also leads the Lions for a second successive tour – only England’s 2003 World Cup-winning talisman Martin Johnson has previously done that – so head coach Warren Gatland has considerable amounts of experience to call upon.
It is likely to be a real family affair for Warren Gatland in the tour opener on June 3 as the Lions’ Provincial Barbarians squad includes his son Bryn. Gatland junior, 22, is a quality fly-half prospect, playing for North Harbour and being part of the Auckland-based Super Rugby franchise the Blues. A prolific points scorer, he continues to make an impression and could easily line up for the Barbarians against Gatland’s Lions.