WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Few, if any, of the New Zealand Barbarians side to face the British and Irish Lions on Saturday have any kind of profile outside their provinces but that does not mean the tourists are in for an easy ride, according to captain Sam Anderson-Heather.
The Otago hooker is confident the players, who have been drawn from the ranks of the semi-professional provincial competition and were thrown together less than a week ago, will give a good account of themselves at Okara Park in Whangarei.
“This trip is full of unknowns and there are 23 unknowns going out there to play the Lions on Saturday,” Anderson-Heather told reporters in Whangarei.
”I think deep down we all feel ... that we represent the grass roots of New Zealand rugby and there is an opportunity to display that out there.
“It’s a great opportunity.”
Anderson-Heather admitted that he had not had time to look at the Lions squad to analyse their strengths and weaknesses, as he had been concentrating on getting to know his own team mates.
“Whoever they brought along would be really talented, highly experienced, and all seasoned professionals,” the 29-year-old added. “Whoever we play, it was going to be a challenge.”
The Barbarians have had little time to train together and were forced into a late change for the match with Southland outside back Junior Ngaluafe pulling out for personal reasons.
New Zealand sevens stalwart Joe Webber has been drafted into the side and replaces Ngaluafe on the bench for the game where the Lions are expected to get their tour off to a solid start with a comfortable victory.
Results from previous Lions tours, however, have shown that few of the provincial sides the visitors have faced are easy to overcome and Barbarians coach Clayton McMillan felt all the pressure was Warren Gatland’s side.
“I think we don’t have any pressure on ourselves at all,” McMillan told Reuters in a recent interview.
”The only pressure we have is making sure that we play to our best and do justice to the jersey.
“I would imagine there would be a higher degree of pressure on the Lions.”
The Barbarians club, modelled on the better known British outfit, was founded in Auckland in 1935 and played their first game -- a benefit match -- in 1937.
The invitational side’s ethos has been about playing open and attractive rugby, something McMillan said they would continue to do on Saturday.
“It’s their first game so they want to start on a good note,” McMillan added.
“For us it’s just a fantastic opportunity ... and we selected guys who can complement the way we want to play which is a fast, open and entertaining brand of rugby.”
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Nick Mulvenney