A large crowd turned out today to see the British & Irish Lions team welcomed on to Te Tii Marae, in Waitangi. For three of their Pacific players, it was a special occasion to be welcomed back to Polynesia.
It was a boisterous welcome for all, and a homecoming for their Polynesian players.
Captain Sam Warburton was happy to learn from his own players, “I noticed that when they meet players at the game, they always have that close connection. Ben Te’o is from Auckland where he spent a bit of time. He’s told us quite a bit about the country, and the culture."
Assistant coach John Spencer is a former Lions player, he toured here in the early 70’s. He has wonderful memories of the Māori culture.
“I came here in 1971 so I can still sing Pokarekare ana,” says Spencer.
New Zealand Rugby Board Māori Representative Dr. Farah Palmer is pleased to see the respect shown by the Lions during today’s welcoming.
Palmer says, “I suppose it does come down to our history. This is quite a significant place for a team like that. Their heritage is back to Queen Victoria, and the crown coming over and the relationship that was formed with Māori.”
The proceedings of the day is a taste of what is to come for many of the British & Irish contingent, which includes a tense encounter with the Māori All Blacks in two weeks.
“Everyone’s really excited now so I think it’s going to be challenging. The moment in Rotorua is going to be amazing,” says Palmer.
With the welcome done, the Lions are now friends. Once outside the gates, however, they are the opponent.