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New Zealand gives Lions traditional Maori welcome

Reuters logo Reuters 31/05/2017

Captain Sam Warburton (L) receives a hongi in welcome as the team arrives at Auckland International Airport. © Fiona Goodall/Getty Images Captain Sam Warburton (L) receives a hongi in welcome as the team arrives at Auckland International Airport. The British and Irish Lions received a traditional Maori welcome at Auckland Airport on Wednesday when they arrived for their eagerly-anticipated 10-match tour of New Zealand.

Tour captain Sam Warburton accepted the challenge on behalf of his team during the 'powhiri' (welcome), which included a performance of the All Blacks' traditional "Ka Mate" haka.

Lions' manager John Spencer responded to the welcome on behalf of the team, who then replied with a hymn.

"We are all looking forward to visiting and we hope that we will do it justice. It is a privilege to be here," Spencer said.

"We hope we will go away successful, we certainly have the team that will accept the challenge ... we know there are very many ahead of us."

The Lions, who have won just one previous series in New Zealand, will play 10 games on the tour. They face all five of the country's Super Rugby teams, the Maori All Blacks and three tests against Steve Hansen's All Blacks.

The first test takes place on June 24 at Eden Park, the second on July 1 in Wellington before the tour wraps up with the third test back in Auckland a week later.

The All Blacks have not lost at Eden Park since 1994 and are unbeaten in New Zealand since 2009.

The tour begins on Saturday with a match against a provincial selection side in Whangarei.

While the Lions received a mostly generous welcome on social media, some were keen to prick the rivalry.

One fan named Margo wrote on Fairfax Media's live blog feed of the Lions arrival: "Song smong .... If they can't deliver on the field no good singing is going to mean squat at the end of the tour ... Passion doesn't equate to technical delivery on the rugby field!"

The tour is also expected to deliver a boost to New Zealand Rugby's coffers.

The last Lions visit in 2005 contributed more than NZ$250 million ($177.48 million) in economic activity and provided an additional NZ$25m to the host union.

"For the team that have been working on this project for a long time, some of them 18 months to two years, the team touching down is a sign all the work is now coming into fruition," NZR chief executive Steve Tew told Radio Sport.

"From a personal point of view I can't wait. I feel incredibly privileged to be sitting in a seat sideline watching a second Lions tour."

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