31 May 2017

Lions tour: Squad arrives in New Zealand

9:48 pm on 31 May 2017

Dozens of British and Irish Lions fans gathered to welcome the team to New Zealand as they landed at Auckland Airport this afternoon.

The team touched down shortly after midday today and were welcomed with a haka, responding with a song of their own.

They were cheered as they emerged from the arrival gate by fans decked out in British Isles red and in lion-themed costumes.

British triplets Charlie, Harry and Louis Banfield,  17 have taken the day off school to see The Lions arrive.

British triplets Charlie, Harry and Louis Banfield, 17 have taken the day off school to see The Lions arrive. Photo: RNZ / Anusha Bradley

The supporters were feeling excited and hopeful about the upcoming tour.

Elliot White and Simon Foot

Elliot White and Simon Foot Photo: RNZ / Anusha Bradley

"Northern Hemisphere rugby has improved so much over the last 12 to 18 months, the divide between the Northern and Southern hemisphere is getting closer and closer," Charlie Banfield said.

"We're going to show the All Blacks that they can't write us off early. We'll come back fighting hard and show them how it's done," his brother, Harry, said.

"Four nations coming together, it can't get any better than that really," Louis Banfield said.

Friends Elliot White and Simon Foot were dressed in revealing "English budgie smugglers" and Lions shirts and manes around their necks.

The pair had chosen New Zealand especially for their gap year so they could be part of the tour and they were feeling confident the Lions would do better this time round.

"It was a long time ago, it'll be different this time, hopefully anyway," Mr White said.

"Yeah, I'm definitely confident," Mr Foot added.

The Lions will play in Christchurch, Dunedin, Rotorua, Hamilton and Wellington before ending in Auckland for the third test against the All Blacks on 8 July.

The team will head north to Whangarei for the first match against the Barbarians team on Saturday.

The British & Irish Lions touring party before departing for New Zealand.

The British and Irish Lions touring party before departing for New Zealand. Photo: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Northland Rugby Union chief executive Alistair McGinn said Whangarei was excited beyond belief about its visitors.

"The economic benefit to the whole region will be significant, not only for this one game but when the British and Irish Lions return [to Auckland] to the two test matches, the expectation is that the rugby fraternity from abroad will get in their campervans and visit the North and the Far North to see the beauty of New Zealand."

He said the union was privileged to be the only provincial union to be chosen for a game.

British and Irish Lions' fans await their arrival at Auckland airport.

Fans await the visitors' arrival at Auckland Airport. Photo: RNZ / Anusha Bradley

The visitors will play 10 matches; against all five New Zealand Super Rugby franchises, the Māori All Blacks, three test matches against the All Blacks and the tour opener against the New Zealand Barbarians.

Adam Parker, rugby development officer for the Linwood Rugby Club, said they were very excited to have the Lions based there while they were in Christchurch.

But he fancied the All Blacks' chances against the visitors.

"They're playing some quality teams on the back end of a tough European season, so yes, it's going to be a massive challenge for them to get up," he said.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen told a British newspaper yesterday that New Zealand fans were not arrogant.

"And they know that this Lions squad is one of the best to have been picked for a long, long time," he said

"The Lions have got a lot of expectation of their own - 30,000 people are coming out to support them and they are coming out in expectation of their team playing really well and winning the series."

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