Rain forecast to clear in time for opening encounter
Provincial Barbarians given 36-point start
Sheeting rain greeted the Lions players as they arrived at Whangarei’s Toll Stadium on Friday to train for their opening tour match, but the forecast is for clearer skies by kick-off.
New Zealand’s North Island has seen four days of rain which could make conditions tricky as the Lions take on the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians, a side made up of players from the tier below Super Rugby level.
Their coach Clayton McMillan said there is little pressure on the players against a clearly superior Lions outfit, adding: “We selected guys who can complement the way we want to play which is a fast, open and entertaining brand of rugby.”
Bookmakers installed the Lions as 31-point favourites at the start of the week but the line has been pushed up to 35 or 36 with most firms.
Both teams have been forced to shuffle their bench. Ireland utility back Jared Payne was initially named among the Lions replacements but was struggling with a calf problem and has been replaced by Elliot Daly of Wasps, while Southland’s Junior Ngaluafe has pulled out for personal reasons so New Zealand sevens player Joe Webber comes on to the Barbarians bench.
The Auckland Blues, the Lions’ next opponents on Wednesday, won their Super Rugby clash against the Queensland Reds 34-29 in Samoa on Friday. The Lions are ten-point favourites for that fixture at Eden Park, which will also host two of the three Tests against the All Blacks.