AUCKLAND (Reuters) - The British and Irish Lions received a traditional Maori welcome at Auckland Airport on Wednesday as they arrived in New Zealand for their eagerly-anticipated 10-match tour, with coach Warren Gatland maintaining the only metric for success will be a series victory over the All Blacks.
Tour captain Sam Warburton accepted the challenge on behalf of his team during the ‘powhiri’ (welcome), which included a performance of the All Blacks’ traditional “Ka Mate” haka.
Lions’ manager John Spencer responded to the welcome on behalf of the team, who then replied with a hymn.
“We are all looking forward to visiting and we hope that we will do it justice. It is a privilege to be here,” Spencer said.
“We hope we will go away successful, we certainly have the team that will accept the challenge ... we know there are very many ahead of us.”
The Lions, who have won just one previous series in New Zealand, will play 10 games on the tour. They face all five of the country’s Super Rugby teams, the Maori All Blacks and three tests against Steve Hansen’s All Blacks.
Lions coach Gatland said that while they wanted to win all 10 of the games, victory in the test series would be the true marker of whether the tour was a success.
”Who remembers the midweek games, the other games?“ Gatland told reporters. ”It’s all about winning the test series.
“So if we drop a game or two on the way, as we’re looking at combinations or trying things out, it’s not going to be the end of the world.”
The first test takes place on June 24 at Eden Park, the second on July 1 in Wellington before the tour wraps up with the third test back in Auckland a week later.
The All Blacks have not lost at Eden Park since 1994 and are unbeaten in New Zealand since 2009.
The tour begins on Saturday with a match against a provincial selection side in Whangarei and while the Lions have only two full days to prepare, Gatland said the team he expected to name on Thursday had been training together for two weeks.
“A lot of the players for the team for Saturday have been working together for the past couple of weeks,” he added. “So hopefully they’ll have a bit of a head start.”
The tour is also expected to deliver a handsome boost to the local economy and New Zealand Rugby’s coffers.
The last Lions visit in 2005 contributed more than NZ$250 million (138.5 million pounds) in economic activity and provided an additional NZ$25m to the host union.
“For the team that have been working on this project for a long time, some of them 18 months to two years, the team touching down is a sign all the work is now coming into fruition,” NZR chief executive Steve Tew told Radio Sport.
“From a personal point of view I can’t wait. I feel incredibly privileged to be sitting in a seat sideline watching a second Lions tour.”
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Peter Rutherford