McMillan embracing provincial challenge for Lions

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.

June 3: The 2017 Lions tour kicks off against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians. The Ireland No 10 had a poor game for Leinster in their Guinness Pro12 semi-final defeat by the Scarlets two weeks ago so will be looking to put in a performance that is up to his more usual high standards.

"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'".

"We have named a side that showcases a strong combination of experience and youth and we are really looking forward to Saturday", Gatland said.

"On previous Lions tours they played in many provincial centres so most New Zealanders had the chance of seeing them which reinforced rugby as our national game and a game for all New Zealanders". "I am also liking the players coming through at a time when there are injury worries to regular All Blacks - and we are seeing the emergence of guys who we haven't previously heard about. I have quite happily moved on from that part of my life and am enjoying coaching".

"The 1971 Lions changed the face of New Zealand rugby", the All Blacks' 2011 World Cup-winning coach and former Lions coach Graham Henry said in the book's prologue.

"And I'm confident that all the teams we come up against will go in there with hopefully the same attitude of playing some good rugby on the field, and some entertaining rugby as well".

Gatland, who has described the New Zealand tour as the "ultimate challenge", said he wanted to avoid off-field distractions.

"It's not something that's crossed my mind at all: in my experience of New Zealand teams, they play to the limit, they play to the edge but I don't think they go out there with the objective of trying to injure players or trying to injure people", said Gatland.

"McCaw and Carter were very special players, and probably all-time greats".

Harlequins prop Kyle Sinckler is yet to start a match for England across his eight Test caps, but has now claimed the first Lions starting shirt available on the New Zealand tour.

His place has now been taken by England's Elliot Daly for Saturday's contest, which is the opening fixture of six warm-up matches before the first Test with the world champions on June 24.

  • Zachary Reyes