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Sweeney adds touch of calm to Baabaas

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 1/06/2017 Angelo Risso

There's something of a gulf in quality between the Morrinsville Rugby and Sports Club and a full-strength British and Irish Lions.

Yet it's a chasm Dwayne Sweeney will look to bridge as the provincial Barbarians' second-five and elder statesman for Saturday's tour-opener in Whangarei.

Since returning from four seasons in Japan at the end of 2016, the 32-year-old Sweeney has been pulling on the Morrinsville jumper in division one of Waikato club rugby and serving as an injury replacement player for the Chiefs.

He's made six appearances for his club - but now must jump straight into challenging the likes of Jonathan Joseph and Ben Te'o as the Baabaas' No.12.

He'll play for Waikato, where he previously made 78 appearances in a 10-year stint to 2012, in the provincial championship later this year.

"I've got to start drawing back into a few past experiences really - it's going to be a bit different playing against the Lions than it'll be playing Taupiri at Campbell Park for Morrinsville," the former Maori All Blacks ace said.

"The Lions is once every 12 years - it could easily be the biggest occasion I'll ever get to play in, so I've got to treat it like that and enjoy it.

"It's almost like a bit of a gift, I had to pinch myself when I got the phone call."

In what is a very green Baabaas outfit, Sweeney's experience and guile will be key in settling his troops against an all-star Lions outfit, led by Sam Warburton, and guiding the likes of first-five Bryn Gatland into the right attacking channels.

He said he was slowly helping to instil confidence in the young side, captained by Sam Anderson-Heather, and build relationships among the players.

The 23-man squad includes players from 14 provincial unions, as well as Heartland representative and Wanganui veteran Peter Rowe.

"The young guys have definitely thrown a bit of banter my way about being the old fella and giving me stick, saying I was playing when TV was black and white," Sweeney said.

"The key role for me is that calming influence - it's going to be loud.

"It's just making sure we do see the best from those young guys."

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