Lions tour of New Zealand 2017 and pride of the Lions 1997, where, when and who will start? - Lets

British and Irish Lions go on to New Zealand starting 3rd June.  The tour kicks off against New Zealand Provincial Barbarians, 7.35 PM their time. All the matches can be viewed courtesy of Sky at 8.35 AM.  The tour culminates with two test matches against the New Zealand All Blacks on Saturday July 1st and 8th.

Personally having had the opportunity to attend a charity dinner with veterans of the 1997 Lions Tour of South Africa the 2017 Lions Tour should be one of the best.  Especially as it could be the last Lions Tour in it’s current format.

The game has come a long way since the 1997 which had the first Lions tour after the game turned professional.  More money entering that game has pulled criticism from big names in the sport such as Mark Cafferty, Chief Executive of Premiership Rugby.  Mark McCall director of Rugby at Saracens as spoken out about the 10 match format as being ludicrous.  If it’s not grueling enough to have played the Six Nations just a few months before players have a 10 match tour culminating in playing the number 1 team in the world. All when their home clubs are starting pre-season training.  No wonder when 6 Saracens players are in the Lions squad, that Mark McCall, has something to say about it.  But, you can’t get better training than playing the New Zealand all blacks.

With my VIP lanyards hanging round my neck and entered the Pride of Lions 1997 reunited dinner with great anticipation of getting some insight from successful rugby professionals.  Being fortunate enough to have sat at the table with Paul Wallace (Ireland), now a Sky TV sports pundit, I managed to squeeze a moment to get him to sign and date a Lions Tour rugby ball that I won at the events charity auction (to help Finley).  Check out the picture.

Legends from the first squad to win a test series in South Africa since 1974 included;

Neil Jenkins MBE (Wales) – Dan Bigger (of more recent times) must have been taking notes from Neil Jenkins, who was top point scorer in the Test series with near faultless kicking.  He is heading to New Zealand with Warren Gatland’s backroom team for the 2017 tour.

John Bentley (England) – Finishing as top try scorer with 7 tries.  Fans may want to check out his solo effort against Gauteng Lions on Youtube (he knew how to wiggle his hips and use his speed to his advantage).

Paul Wallace (Ireland) – Starting as understudy to Graham Rowntree but forced his way to be first choice for the Test series with determination to be successful.  A small and fitter front row helped the team out play bigger rivals.

Doddie Weir (Scotland) – Providing back up to the Skipper Martin Johnson Doddie was an essential part of the midweek side that remained unbeaten on tour.

Jinks, Bentos, Wally and Doddie where, like most Rugby playing folk, down to earth guys and shared their memories of the tour in good humour, as you would expect from distinguished sporting heroes. Having spent their careers bashing seven bails of shit out of each other at club and national level they pulled together as Lions for a memorable victory in South Africa in 1997. Anecdotes about about Jim Telfer’s (assistant coach at the time) coaching style and filming of the popular sporting documentary Living with the Lions made it an enjoying evening for all.

Points taken away from the legends included the grueling nature of the Tour with little time to prepare after a long flight from Blighty.  The importance of getting team spirit together to help players from different clubs and home nations to play as a well oiled machine.  Games are now won on fitness not just technique.  Players run the risk of becoming gym monkeys spending too much time pumping iron.  As professional rugby grows it’s audience player fitness has proved to be a key part in edging success from matches, which is likely to continue, and must be essential for the physical beating the players endure: a test they face in 2017 against the Worlds number 1 ranked team.  The lions must not let the Hacker intimidate them especially if the Maori All Blacks perform the hacker as well.  Advice from Paul Wallace including keeping possession of ball and playing to space as key to defeating the New Zealand All Blacks.

Personally I believe Welsh players will play a big part in the 2017 Lions Tour test matches.  You have Warren Gatland who used to manage the national team, Rob Howley (a former welsh player and 1997 Lion) and Neil Jenkins in the back office.  Andy Farrell and Rob Howley are also coaches. Sam Warburton, of Cardiff Blues and former welsh captain, is captain of the Lions team 2017.  Warburton had the same role in the successful 2013 Lions Tour of Australia where Warren Gatland was  also head coach.

Lions Tour 2017 squad line up

Loosehead props: Joe Marler (England); Jack McGrath (Ireland); Mako Vunipola (England)

Hookers: Rory Best (Ireland); Jamie George (England); Ken Owens (Wales)

Tighthead props: Dan Cole (England); Tadhg Furlong (Ireland); Kyle Sinckler (England)

Second rows: Iain Henderson (Ireland); Maro Itoje (England); Alun Wyn Jones (Wales);
George Kruis (England); Courtney Lawes (England)

Flankers: Sean O’Brien (Ireland); Peter O’Mahony (Ireland); CJ Stander (Ireland); Justin Tipuric (Wales); Sam Warburton (Wales) CAPTAIN; Ross Moriarty (Wales)

Number eights: Taulupe Faletau (Wales); Billy Vunipola (England)

Scrum-halves: Conor Murray (Ireland); Ben Youngs (England); Rhys Webb (Wales)

Fly-halves: Dan Biggar (Wales); Johnny Sexton (Ireland)

Centres: Elliot Daly (England); Jonathan Davies (Wales); Owen Farrell (England); Robbie Henshaw (Ireland); Ben Te’o (England); Jonathan Joseph (England); Jared Payne (Ireland)

Wings: George North (Wales); Anthony Watson (England); Jack Nowell (England); Tommy Seymour (Scotland); Liam Williams (Wales)

Full-backs: Leigh Halfpenny (Wales); Stuart Hogg (Scotland)

Who is going to make the starting XV?

Bookies favourites for the players most likely to start include;

Stuart Hogg (Scotland) at Full Back 1/2

George North (Wales) at Right Wing 1/4

Jonathan Davies (Wales) Outside centre 11/10

Owen Farrell (England) Inside centre 1/3

Anthony Watson (England) left wing 11/10

Jonathan Sexton (Ireland) fly-half 1/3

Conor Murray (Ireland) Scrum half 4/11

Mako Vunipola (England) Loosehead prop 5/4

Rory Best (Ireland) Hooker 4/5

Tadhg Furlong (Ireland) Tighthead prop 2/5

Maro Itoje (England) Lock 4/6

Alan Wyn Jones (Wales) Lock 1/4

CJ Stander (Ireland) Flanker  5/4

Sam Warburton (Wales) Openside flanker 4/7

Billy Vunipola (England) Number 8 1/5

There have been 38 test matches between the two teams with the All Blacks wining 29 of them. British and Irish Lions have not won a Lions series in New Zealand since 1971.

Recommended bookmaker for the series is Betfair.  Check them out.

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