The New Zealand Barbarians received a stirring welcome to Whangarei today in preparation for the opening game of the 2017 British & Irish Lions Tour this Saturday. The event also marks the Barbarians first ever international fixture on home soil.
From Ngāti Whanaunga in the Coromandel and Ngāi Takoto in the Far North, Auckland representative prop Marcel Renata say it's a return to his tribal roots, "It's the biggest game in my career really. Not many people get the opportunity to you know they come every so often so looking forward to it and I'm gonna try and make the most of it."
Northland flanker Matthew Matich is fizzing at the chance of playing in front of his home crowd, "Personally it's just a huge honour to be out playing the Lions. It's just a massive event, not just a rugby game; it's a huge event so it's gonna [sic] be awesome. So hopefully all the Northlanders get out and I'm sure they will!"
The NZ Barbarians have their first team run this afternoon at Toll Stadium with strong support from local elders still wanting payback for the close defeat North Auckland from the hands of the Lions in Whangarei in 1950.
Kaumātua Dick Shepherd told the team, "They won 8-6. I'm telling you fellas to win this Saturday 18-16."
Assistant coach Roger Randle says the squad has a number of young and upcoming players yet to make it into Super Rugby along with a few experienced campaigners at that level, "We want to play a pretty exciting brand, we've picked a lot of players that are not in the Super Rugby teams at the moment. But they're young up and coming players and a few older players with experience that have been at that level. So we like to play with a little bit of innovation but hopefully we can come up with a couple of plays that might surprise them."
For the younger players, it's a week of anticipation in the build up to the highlight of their careers to date.
Marcel Renata says, "They're gonna be big boys that love their set piece so it's gonna be a challenge but I'm looking forward to it yeah, bring the heat!"
Matthew Matich says, "23 million viewers you know, even the media being around is pretty new to me so I'm just embracing it and I'll get amongst it."