Choir practice and film nights will form part of the British and Irish Lions preparations for their Test series against the All Blacks as coach Warren Gatland tries to make sure they are comfortable with the culture of New Zealand.
Gatland, a New Zealander who played for Waikato against the Lions, is convinced that too many touring sides arrive in the land of his birth ill-equipped for the off-field challenges that come with being in the rugby-mad nation.
“A lot of teams arrive in New Zealand and, I saw this in 2011 (at the World Cup), they weren’t prepared for the stuff off the field. They weren’t prepared culturally,” said Gatland after naming a 41-man squad Wednesday for the 10-match tour, which features three Tests against the world champion All Blacks.
“That’s important. I’ve got to make sure we do that. I’d see that we teach them that when they speak, it is followed by song.
“So the first week together we’re going to be doing a bit of singing and a bit of choir practice to get that right,” added Gatland, also the Lions’ coach when they beat Australia 2-1 four years ago.
“I said to the staff and I’ll say to the players to go and watch a couple of New Zealand films. Like ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’. Maybe ‘Whale Rider’. ‘Boy’.
“I’m not sure ‘Once Were Warriors’ sets the best example of New Zealand.
“It gives you an understanding of New Zealand, of the people, the humour, which is a bit different.
“If you can understand New Zealand, the intensity of the place and the opposition it makes us better prepared and it’s those small things that will make us better on the field.”
The Lions lone series win in New Zealand was in 1971, with their most recent visit ending in a 3-0 loss 12 years ago.
Ireland, however, beat the All Blacks 40-29 in Chicago in November, following on from England’s 38-21 win over New Zealand in 2012.
Several players who featured in those wins are in the Lions squad with defence coach Andy Farrell a member of the victorious backroom staff in both matches.
“You try to talk about how they are human, they are capable of making mistakes, they do have frailties if you put them under pressure,” Gatland said.
“The pleasing thing is a lot of those players can believe that because they saw Ireland beat the All Blacks in Chicago.
“Often players, when you try to communicate that, you see the glaze in players’ eyes when you say they are fallible and they are like everyone else.
“But we’ve seen Andy Farrell involved in two teams beating the All Blacks, the English players in 2012.
“It’s an incredibly tough tour. I heard the other day a Kiwi asked if they can win the series 3-0 and they said they didn’t want to win 3-0, they want to win 10-0. That gives an idea of what their expectation is.
“But that also fires myself up and hopefully gives the players and the team the motivation to go out there and perform.”
Gatland, once more on secondment from his role as Wales coach, has again appointed Sam Warburton, the Lions captain in Australia, as his skipper.
The Cardiff Blues back-row, only the second man to lead the Lions on two tours after England great Martin Johnson in 1997 and 2001 got the honour this year despite standing down as Wales captain prior to the Six Nations in a bid to regain his best form.
“His greatest quality is it is not all about Sam Warburton, it’s about the team and putting the team first,” Gatland said.
“He knows his form has got to be good enough to be selected.
“If Justin Tipuric or Sean O’Brien are playing better than him, we make that selection from a coach’s point of view.”
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