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Warburton’s welcome is worth the wait

The British & Irish Lions have arrived in New Zealand and are already feeling right at home according to Tour captain Sam Warburton.

“I’ve got to be careful with the (Hongi) as I’ve got a bigger nose than most people!”

Warburton led his playing squad on Wednesday afternoon as they touched down at Auckland International Airport.

After accepting the traditional spear – or wero – on behalf of the squad at the traditional Maori welcome, Warburton and his Lions then engaged in a number of other greetings.

There were ‘hakas’ and ‘waiatas’ and the Lions choir were in full voice and Warburton loved every minute.

“It’s nice to finally be here, there’s been a lot of talking since the start of the season,” he said.

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“I’m quite used to the Maori welcomes from 2011 and last year with Wales. I had quite a few. I’ve spent 11 weeks here, and really enjoy it.

“I’ve got to be careful with the (Hongi) as I’ve got a bigger nose than most people!  Maybe I enjoy it more as I’m older.

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“In New Zealand everyone’s so friendly which is why it’s my favourite place to play rugby in the world, outside of my home country.

“That was great for us, as soon as we hit the ground.”

The Lions choir impressed once more, offering their Maori welcomers a rendition of the Welsh hymn Calon Lan.

“The boys have had to learn a lot of calls but the boys have learned the Welsh songs which is really impressive, especially considering there are only about four or five natural Welsh speakers in the whole squad,” added the skipper.

Preparations for the Lions first game of the Tour are well underway and the team for Saturday’s clash with the NZ Provincial Barbarians will be announced at 7AM on Thursday (8PM Wednesday UK Time).

Having spent Tuesday night in a Melbourne hotel to combat jetlag, the skipper will be desperate to be involved on the weekend.

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But there is a man on the other side for their opponents that has also caught the captain’s eye.

Fly-half Bryn Gatland, son of Warren, is expected to feature for the NZ Baa Baas and after his heroics with a last-minute drop goal for North Harbour last year, Warburton understands the threat he brings.

“We know the No.10 pretty well. I’ve known Bryn when he was coming in to kick with the Wales squad six, seven years ago. The Welsh lads know him well,” he added.

“I’ve a lot of respect for Bryn, he showed a lot of courage for that drop-goal last year. You have to give him a lot of credit for that and he’s got a good bloodline.

“I am Looking forward to coming up against him.”

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