Alun Wyn Jones not worried by criticism over Lions schedule

The British and Irish Lions opening match of their tour of New Zealand against the Provincial Barbarians tomorrow will be keenly watched for many reasons, but for captain Sam Warburton it will be more about shaking out the cobwebs.

New Zealand-born rugby league convert Ben Te'o has also been named to start in the centres with England teammate Jonathan Joseph, providing Gatland with the combination of a hard ball runner and more creative player in midfield. The casting adrift of the midweek players in some Lions expeditions had a severely damaging effect on morale, and cannot be repeated this time round. "This is going towards a range of leveraging opportunities including a school curriculum programme and Rugby 2017 Festival which will help host cities showcase New Zealand culture".

All 17 of the Saracens hooker's England caps have been won off the replacements' bench, providing back-up to current England captain Dylan Hartley and he will now face a battle with Ireland skipper Rory Best and in-form Welshman Ken Owens for a Test team starting place. I'm looking forward to seeing what Greig can do alongside Johnny Sexton who both are experienced half-backs.

"I know the guys who were involved with Graham Henry in 2001 - he lost half the team on day one because he went "you guys over here, and you guys over there" and the players knew straight away 'well, that's the test side and we're just making up the numbers'".

The ambassadors leave on Monday, June 12 and as part of the trip will visit NZRU Headquarters and the Tia Papa Museum; meet former Lions; attend warm up fixtures and the first Lions Test match; be part of the Fan Engagement evenings, and meet New Zealand Rugby club members.

"We haven't played any rugby yet but that will be the true test of where we are". Prior to that tour there were calls for the tourists to be banished into history - they were regarded by some as an anachronism - but that series win brought the romance back and the tourists were once again national treasures.

But Lions head coach Warren Gatland believes his squad are ready for the 10-match tour, and Warburton agrees.

"So the next two games after Saturday are going to be tough tests for us as well but we need to get this tour off to a good start, and we need a good performance on Saturday".

Things get a little more serious tomorrow, of course, with the rugby finally kicking off.

"As a Kiwi, if you're critical of New Zealand, how isolated we are, you get absolutely smashed, so you keep your mouth shut".

"We have got a good group of lads who are starting to bond really well off the pitch and that's massive".

"The players are aware about the competition in that position".

"I've been looking into this Adopt a Lions as a handy way to explore the slightly smaller towns while saving some money as well as getting some fantastic hospitality".

  • Julie Sanders