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London attacks overshadow Lions welcome

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 4/06/2017

The British and Irish Lions rugby team have emerged from a spectacular Maori welcome in a place where Kiwi and British history was forged, only to learn of terror attacks back home.

More than 400 warriors, mainly from the Northland iwi Ngapuhi, welcomed them to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds where the document that led to the declaration of British sovereignty over New Zealand was first signed in 1840.

They were honoured to be the first Lions side to visit Waitangi, but thoughts quickly turned to home after terror attacks in London.

"We've just come out of the Maori welcome and we've just heard the news about the tragedies in London," Lions tour manager John Spencer said.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with any people or any families that have been injured in these tragedies.

"Our boys are extremely shocked about it."

Captain Sam Warburton said the team would dedicate their remaining nine fixtures on Kiwi soil to the victims of the attack.

"We just wanted to wish all those involved all the best wishes from the Lions players and management and just that our thoughts are always with the people back home in Britain and Ireland," Warburton told reporters.

"I guess we can play a small part in trying to cheer a majority of the nation up by trying to be successful over here.

"We'll commit our performances and all our efforts to those involved."

In a full powhiri at the grounds on Sunday morning, just hours after their win over the provincial Barbarians in Whangarei, the Lions received three challenges.

The first, in front of the ceremonial war canoe Ngatokimatawhaorua, was private - but the following two were made for public viewing.

After the private challenge, the 41-man Lions squad made their way to the top of the grounds, where they faced the 400 warriors and as many as 4000 fans and locals.

The final challenge, or wero, was made in front of Te Whare Runanga and followed by speeches and songs from the Lions squad in each of the four home unions' native languages - English, Scottish, Welsh and Gaelic.

It was the Test selection's first ever visit to Waitangi.

"It's a big exercise pulling together a powhiri of this scale, spanning so many different iwi," Waitangi Treaty Grounds cultural manager Mori Rapana said.

"The preparations have included practice sessions throughout Northland, from Kaitaia to Whangarei, Auckland and even in Sydney."

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