WELLINGTON (Reuters) - The British and Irish Lions were officially welcomed to New Zealand on Sunday but their thoughts were quickly dragged back to Europe after news of the deadly terror attack in London filtered through.
The Lions arrived in New Zealand on Wednesday and scraped to a 13-7 victory over a team made up of semi-professional and amateur players in Whangarei on Saturday before heading north to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds for an official welcome ceremony.
More than 400 people from the local Ngapuhi tribe performed the powhiri (welcome) for the squad near where the British and local Maori chiefs signed the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand’s foundation document.
“This is the third occasion I’ve been to New Zealand and I’ve had a few official welcomes but that was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before,” Lions captain Sam Warburton told the New Zealand Herald.
“It was fantastic. I think all of the players ... have probably realised it’s going to be one of the best experiences they’ve had outside of their rugby careers.”
The side learned shortly after their arrival of the attack in London, where militants drove a van into pedestrians before stabbing several others.
Six people were killed and more than 30 injured, while police shot the three attackers dead. [nL8N1J103U]
“In future performances and wins, we’ll dedicate to those who have been involved,” Warburton added.
”And I guess we can play a small part in trying to cheer a majority of the nation up by trying to be successful over here.
“We’ll commit our performances and all our efforts to those involved recently in London.”
Tour manager John Spencer said the squad had been shocked after hearing the news.
“The boys are very shocked, some of them don’t even know about it yet,” Spencer added.
”But can I just please express our sympathies with those who have been injured back home. This is a dreadful tragedy and our thoughts ... are certainly with those who have been injured - and their families.
“We’re four nations but we’re one jersey, one team, and we’ll all stand united here about the sentiments in London.”
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Nick Mulvenney