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Gatland stresses team harmony in Lions selections

01 June 2017

Clayton McMillan missed his opportunity to play the British and Irish Lions by one year but the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians coach is far from dwelling on it as he prepares his side for the opening match of the 2017 tour on Saturday.

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

Head coach Gatland feels the Lions could benefit from the haka becoming "regular preparation", with the tourists facing the traditional Maori challenge outside of Test matches for the first time.

As expected, those players who have been training with the Lions from the off make up the bulk of the starting XV - they have had the longest to work on combinations and game plans.

Indeed, only three teams have beaten New Zealand in a home game out of their last 73.

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"If we had one squad of 23 it would be absolutely brutal, but we've got almost two squads of players, so guys aren't going to be starting Saturday, starting Wednesday then starting again Saturday".

The Lions are likely to have too much firepower for a Barbarians line-up featuring his son Bryn at 10 but Gatland Snr is not expecting Saturday's opponents to resort to crude physicality in response: "It's not something that's crossed my mind at all". "Johnny said: 'Don't worry about Owen, he's a midfielder.' There's already a bit of banter there and a lot of healthy competition".

Boss Gatland said: "We are all hugely excited about the first game on tour, it's a great opportunity for the starting XV and the whole match day squad to lay down a marker and get the tour off to a good start".

England retained the northern hemisphere's biggest prize back in March and in doing so equalled the All Blacks' record of 18 consecutive Test victories.

Players with full-time Super Rugby contracts were out of bounds.

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"The players knew straight away that's the Test side and we're just making up the numbers".

"That's our task, that's our job, to come to New Zealand and earn some respect, and hopefully play some good rugby as well".

"The scrum is an area where I'd be a little concerned if I were Warren Gatland in terms of the tight five at Saracens that have found themselves under a bit of pressure in recent weeks - there's four Lions (Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Maro Itoje and George Kruis) and in there".

"And I'm pleased my players will face it a couple of times. All the guys coming in from finals are fresh and ready to go".

"I can see why people on the outside would think it's really bad but it's okay".

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The Ulster trio, Rory Best, Iain Henderson and Jared Payne were one of the first players in Lions camp due to their disappointing season with their club and all three will play some part at the weekend.

Gatland stresses team harmony in Lions selections