Warren Gatland's Lions set for Waitangi welcome

Warren Gatland's British & Irish Lions are assured of at least one friendly welcome while touring our shores - with his squad to be honoured with an official welcome onto the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.

Grounds custodians and rugby bosses today confirmed the special welcome which will take place on June 4, the day after Gatland's men kick off their much-anticipated tour here with a match against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians at Whangarei's Toll Stadium.

The welcome, which will be open to the public, will see the Lions players and coaches brought into Waitaingi's famous whare rūnanga (meeting house) with a traditional pōwhiri.

"It will be an honour to have the British & Irish Lions at the birthplace of the nation and it is fitting the team has accepted the invitation to be welcomed," Waitangi Treaty Grounds chief executive Greg McManus said.

"There could be no more appropriate place to welcome the team and their supporters to our shores as they embark on their six-week tour of New Zealand."

Nigel Cass, New Zealand Rugby general manager of the upcoming Lions series, said the event would have special significance for the visitors and locals alike.

"New Zealanders pride ourselves on our hospitality to international visitors and the event at Waitangi will prove a unique and fitting welcome for the visiting British & Irish Lions," he said.

"As well as welcoming the team, we're also very grateful to Waitangi Treaty Grounds for opening the event to visiting fans and locals. It will make for a truly incredible atmosphere and is set to be a highlight of the series."

British & Irish Lions tour manager John Spencer said the team viewed the welcome at Waitangi as an important introduction to New Zealand's culture and traditions.

He said it would be a "moving experience" for all members of the tour party.

"Being culturally prepared for our tour of New Zealand is important to us and something we intend to embrace by sharing some of our team's cultures, whether it be in English, Welsh, Scottish or Irish," he said.

Gatland named his 41-strong squad on Thursday, naming Welsh flanker Sam Warburton as his captain.

- Herald on Sunday

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