Aside from head coach Warren Gatland and his coaching staff, there was only one other guaranteed tourist ahead the British & Irish Lions squad announcement on April 19.
That honour was reserved for BIL – short for the British and Irish Lion, but his friends call him Billy – who will take his spot on the plane when Gatland’s class of 2017 head to take on the All Blacks in the coming weeks.
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BIL is the Lions’ official mascot and will sit by the side of the pitch for every one of the Tour matches in New Zealand. After travelling to Australia in 2013, this will be BIL’s second international Tour and his first to the land of the long white cloud.
BIL replaced retiring mascot Leo, who stood down after almost two decades of duty, ahead of the last Tour to become the latest in a long line of Lions mascots who are almost as big a part of Lions history as that famous red jersey.
But one tourist in particular will see a lot more of BIL than most over the next two months – at least, that’s the plan.
As the youngest member of the 2017 party, Saracens and England second row Maro Itoje will have the job of taking BIL to all functions and on all trips.
BIL has been known to go missing on occasion, as senior players kidnap him to torment his keeper, but Itoje is confident he is up to the challenge.
“As the youngest member of the Tour, it’s my responsibility to look after this bad boy for the whole of the two months,” he said.
“It’s going to be a challenge I think, but I’m looking forward to it!”
At the Lions’ Player Administration Day on Monday at Syon Park, 2013’s keeper Stuart Hogg was reunited with BIL and officially handed over duties to Itoje.
And the tradition passes on…
2013 custodian @StuartWHOGG_ hands BIL over to @maroitoje – the youngest member of the 2017 Tour! #AllForOne pic.twitter.com/1szpI188Q4
— British&Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) May 8, 2017
Leigh Halfpenny and Keith Earls shared the role in 2009 before him, and Hogg knows that Itoje has a tough but enjoyable task on his hands this summer.
He said: “It feels great to be re-united with BIL, I’ve missed him.
“It’s been a long old four years without him, and it’s good to see him again now we’re all together – he’s looking well!
“I have a lot of good memories of looking after him from 2013. It always felt good to see him sitting at the side of the pitch during every game in Australia – I felt like a proud father.
Click here for the official 41-man Lions squad
“I’d say to Maro that he has to keep a close eye on him; at every opportunity he tends to go walkabouts and he can end up hiding in a few strange places!
“But I’m sure Maro will do a good job so good luck to him.”
THE YOUNGEST LIONS
2017: Maro Itoje (Saracens / England) 22
2013: Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors / Scotland) 20
2009: Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues / Wales) 20 (Replacement)
2005: Matt Stevens (Bath / England) 22
2001: Jonny Wilkinson (Newcastle Falcons /England) 22
1997: Eric Miller (Leicester / Ireland) 21
1993: Scott Gibbs (Swansea / Wales) 22
1989: Craig Chalmers (Melrose / Scotland) 20
1983: Rob Ackerman (L.Welsh / Wales) 22
1980: Peter Morgan (Llanelli / Wales) 21
1977: Elgan Rees (Neath) 22
1974: Clive Rees (L.Welsh / Wales) 22
1971: John Bevan (Cardiff College of Education / Wales) 20
1968: Keith Jarrett (Newport / Wales) 20
1966: Terry Price (Llanelli / Wales) 20 (Replacement)
1962: Ronnie Cowan (Selkirk / Scotland) 20
1959: Dave Hewitt (Queen’s University, Belfast / Ireland) 19
1955: Tony O’Reilly (Old Belvedere / Ireland) 19
1950: Lewis Jones (Llanelli / Wales) 19 (Replacement)