WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Clayton McMillan missed his opportunity to play the British and Irish Lions by one year but the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians coach is far from dwelling on it as he prepares his side for the opening match of the 2017 tour on Saturday.
The former number eight appeared 113 times for Bay of Plenty across nine seasons but left for a professional contract with Japanese club Coca Cola in 2004.
The Lions opened their last tour of New Zealand in 2005 against Bay of Plenty in McMillan’s home town of Rotorua.
“If I think back to the last Lions tour and speaking to my old team mates who played them, they still remember the occasion as being right up there amongst the most memorable in their careers,” the 42-year-old Bay of Plenty coach told Reuters.
“I’d gone to Japan the year before so I missed the opportunity ... but (Saturday’s game) is not about making up for lost opportunities as a player. I have quite happily moved on from that part of my life and am enjoying coaching.”
The current tour is something of a break from tradition for the Lions, who have played almost exclusively against New Zealand’s provincial teams on previous visits.
Their last provincial loss was at the hands of Waikato in 1993, a match in which Lions coach Warren Gatland scored a try.
Despite the advent of professionalism, the 2005 tourists played seven games against provincial opposition, principally because the Super Rugby season had ended and the players were released.
This tour, however, the Lions asked for games solely against the professional Super Rugby teams to prepare for the three-test series and a match against the Maori All Blacks -- which is shaping as an unofficial fourth test.
“It is a little unfortunate that people who don’t play Super Rugby or higher don’t get that opportunity (to play the Lions),” McMillan said.
”But the Lions wanted a really hard programme in order to give themselves the best opportunity to win the series and I‘m sure the (Barbarians) players will be acutely aware they are representing their provinces.
“It’s a massive occasion for them.”
McMillan had to try to include a player from all of the 14 top-tier semi-professional teams and at least one from the 12 amateur sides as part of selection criteria.
Players with full-time Super Rugby contracts were out of bounds.
However, with injuries hitting the main Super Rugby squads, McMillan and his assistant coaches Roger Randle and Joe Maddock were unable to call on some of their targeted players.
“We have been a little bit at the mercy of the Super Rugby squads in terms of who can be released and through injuries,” McMillan added.
“I guess it would be fair to say that we could be the easiest game on tour, but ... the depth in New Zealand is reasonably strong and we’re confident that we’ll put out a team who can do the job.”
Editing by Ian Ransom