At the turn of the 20th century, the All Blacks were led by one of the great New Zealanders, Dave Gallaher, to a 1-0 victory. It took The Lions until 1971 to record their first win.
The anticipation of each Series has been immense and this time the country will stand still for the DHL New Zealand Lions Series 2017. Already we have seen spine-tingling welcome ceremonies for the Lions showing exactly how much rugby means in New Zealand.
The task facing The Lions is fascinating. A formidable side has left British and Irish shores, but the All Blacks home record is almost without parallel when measured against successful sporting teams anywhere in the world. Two powerful forces creating a mouth-watering DHL New Zealand Lions Series 2017.
The Series itself is unique in rugby and the global interest in the tour demonstrates this. The main events in the DHL New Zealand Lions Series are the three test matches against the All Blacks, which start on 24 June. That is where the real prize lies, even though the Lions play six matches before the first Test which is being held in one of rugby’s great citadels – Eden Park, Auckland. The stadium staged its first Test match in 1930 and is on the bucket list of most rugby supporters.
Before that Test Series starts, the Lions will travel the length and breadth of the two wondrous islands getting battle-hardened for a DHL New Zealand Lions Series 2017 that has been inked in the diaries of rugby fans across the world since 2005.
For most sides the matches in the run-up to the Tests are warm-ups… but you can forget that in New Zealand. Every side from the NZ Provincial Barbarians in Whangarei in the North – where the Lions kicked off - or the Highlanders in Dunedin to the south will be whetting their lips at the prospect of playing The Lions.
There is no such thing as a warm-up match in New Zealand, no such thing as arriving in a relatively small town like Rotorua (population 65,000) under the radar.
The last time The Lions were in New Zealand in 2005 they stayed very much on top of the radar for the whole trip and while the mid-week team picked up some morale-boosting victories, the Test side suffered three defeats as a new All Blacks dynasty led by the artistry of Dan Carter was born. The momentum that was started in 2005 ended in 2011 with victory at Rugby World Cup. Make no mistake, Test series wins over The Lions start and make rugby careers. Defeats lead to the door marked “exit.”
But all those records don’t mean the Lions arrived in New Zealand recently without hope. Former Lions like Matt Dawson have described this as the most talented group of Lions ever to leave Great Britain’s shores. And let’s not forget Ireland on their own beat New Zealand last November.
Certainly professionalism has benefited The Lions, with this group far more likely to gel quicker than their predecessors and to be far more used to the cauldron-like atmosphere that waits. The six Saracens players for example are used to the hostility of an Aviva Stadium or the Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin, both of which would compare to Eden Park.
But to do it, the 2017 Class of Lions will need to overturn the odds and history to emerge victorious, and only time will tell if they can achieve that and return home as legends.
Full Fixture List
All kick-offs 8:35 a.m. (UK and Ireland time)
Saturday 3 June – NZ Provincial Barbarians (Whangarei)
Wednesday 7 June – Blues (Auckland)
Saturday 10 June – Crusaders (Christchurch)
Tuesday 13 June – Highlanders (Dunedin)
Saturday 17 June – Maori All Blacks (Rotorua)
Tuesday 20 June – Chiefs (Hamilton)
Saturday 24 June – New Zealand (Auckland)
Tuesday 27 June – Hurricanes (Wellington)
Saturday 1 July – New Zealand (Wellington)
Saturday 8 July – New Zealand (Auckland)