Focus remains on Lions as Gatland asks his men to "lay down"


Three Irishmen have been selected for the opening game of the Lions tour against New Zealand Barbarians on Saturday - Rory Best at hooker, Iain Henderson in the second row and Johnny Sexton at No 10.

Sexton and late call-up Greig Laidlaw form Warren Gatland's half-back pairing, while centres Ben Te'o and Jonathan Joseph, as well as winger Anthony Watson, ensure a strong English representation among the backs.

Meanwhile, Laidlaw has insisted the individual records of the British and Irish Lions' four nations will carry precious little weight on a gruelling tour of New Zealand.

Gatland said that as a New Zealander he had taken pains to ensure the Lions players were well-versed on Maori culture.

The British and Irish Lions rugby players train in Auckland, New Zealand, Thursday, June 1, 2017.

The Barbarians are comprised of players from New Zealand's semi-professional provincial competition and considered the easiest opposition the Lions will face on their gruelling tour.

Fitzpatrick, capped 92 times by the All Blacks over an 11 year Test career, reflected: "I never thought we were going to lose that, purely in terms of our preparation".

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"So there is a big responsibility on the lot of the experienced players to go out there and start well and get us off to a winning start".

Despite the limited buildup as players filtered into the training camps due to club commitments, coach Warren Gatland said he had chosen his side last week and they had spent much of it training together.

"I can see why people on the outside would think it's really bad but it's okay". It was an opportunity for the combinations to work together for a couple of weeks and to prepare for their first game. And players that shine as a Lion on the pitch - such as Wales' Gareth Edwards and Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll - become legends of the worldwide game.

Further highlighting the achievement is the fact that in the 46 years since the 1971 tour, New Zealand have not lost another home series and have beaten the Lions in 12 of their 14 meetings.

If you've got a squad of 23, yeah it would be brutal but we've got almost two squads of players so guys aren't going to be starting Saturday, starting Wednesday and starting again the next Saturday.

Joining Furlong and Payne on the bench are Jamie George, Mako Vunipola, George Kruis, Justin Tipuric, Rhys Webb and England's Owen Farrell.

The chapter on the match against Canterbury, described by Lions lock Delme Thomas as "without doubt the dirtiest game I ever played in" probably makes the most shocking reading.