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Ethan Fox’s British & Irish Lions Tour 2017 experience

• Posted in New Zealand / Rugby Union • By Local Staff

Thursday, 6th July 2017

So after suffering the slowest morning ever waiting for my lift to arrive to take me to the airport, I’m finally sat in a seat on a flight to Auckland. Filled with the excitement of a really small child going on their first holiday, the hour-and-a-half flight felt like only ten minutes! Before you know it, bags have been collected and we’re heading to our hosts’ house not far from Mt. Eden. 

We found our hosts, Elaine and Patrick, through an 'Adopt a Lion' host page and they were awesome from the minute we walked into their beautiful home with beers in the fridge and food ready to be dished out. We were never short on conversation, especially since our hosts' daughter was studying at Otago University where I had been since February 2017 playing with a Varsity Rugby team that Sport Lived arranged for me.

Me and my friends then headed out around 10pm to see what the atmosphere was like in town and to have a few drinks at a bar in the Viaduct area of Auckland. There was a band playing and no shortage of Lions fans keeping the night alive. It was only a couple of drinks though as we had quite a big day planned the next day.

Friday, 7th July 2017

The eve of the big match and me and my friend, Mark, had our own game to play. The day started with a lovely cooked breakfast and a personal tour to the top of Mt. Eden by our host Patrick. It was a really clear day and the views were amazing!

The next stop was Gribblehirst, home of Eden Rugby Club, where an All Blacks vs Lions fans rugby match had been organised for a laugh between the two sets of fans. The first match was a Lions fans XV vs Eden Rugby Club 3rd’s. Disappointingly the turnout from the Lions fans could have been slightly better but none the less a squad of seventeen, all aged between 16-60 years old, took on a strong looking Eden Rugby Club. There was a good crowd in attendance, including Sky Sports News from the UK and New Zealand’s Channel 3 news.

A shaky start from the Lions in the opening minutes, who had only just met their new teammates for the first time no more than an hour before kick-off. Eden was gifted an easy try but we all gathered momentum, especially dominating in the scrum. The game was played in fantastic spirit and at the final whistle Eden had just pipped the Lions six tries to our four. We then had a two-hour break before the last game of the day, the one I’d been looking forward to and dreading at the same time!

The 2nd match arranged was the Lions fans vs a Pacific All-Stars team made up of 22 All Blacks caps, 68 Manu Samoa caps and 1 Tongan cap. Due to other commitments, the Lions fans’ squad was now only nine men strong and the All-Stars had just eleven so a Sevens game was agreed under the floodlights. Every one of the All-Stars never had to get out of first gear and won the game comfortably but we still gave our best game. We even managed to dot down a few tries of our own, however many of us were just enjoying having the opportunity to play against these legends. After all the matches were finished everyone got settled in Eden’s clubhouse. Signed shirts were auctioned off for charity with players and fans from all sides chatting and drinking long into the night.

Saturday, 8th July 2017

After a much needed lie in, we headed to the Lions fans’ village in town. The atmosphere in the fans village was brilliant, being surrounded by over a thousand Lions fans all on the brink of potentially witnessing a historic series win. We spent just over an hour here, watching a fascinating performance from a group explaining Maori culture and had a look round the trophy tent on display with the Rugby World Cup, Bledisloe Cup and the series trophies of the 2005 and 2017 British and Irish Lions tours to New Zealand on display. We then all headed down the road to a restaurant to have dinner and then time to make our way to the stadium by train.

When the train arrived at the station, everything really hit me. Here I was, at the All-Blacks fortress that is Eden Park, at the final deciding match of the series where the winner takes it all and the loser walks away with nothing. The sea of red in the stands almost made it feel like a home game. The teams run out onto the stage and the roar of passion from both sets of fans was deafening. The volume quieted to respect the national anthem of New Zealand and to observe the All-Blacks throw down the challenge to the Lions with the Haka. I was on the edge of my seat for the entire game. Every minute was spent expecting the All-Blacks’ awesomeness to break through and run riot as they so often do or hoping for a piece of Lions magic that would send this place into raptures!

At the end of the game, fans had controversial views on decisions made but either way I think everyone agreed that the game should never have ended in a draw. For many people I spoke to, it had dampened their mood after an entire month of rugby hype and there was no clear winner or loser. Rugby was the winner, maybe? All the fans filtered out of the stadium with most intending to spend their night celebrating. I know I did! We ended up at the Eden Rugby Club to begin our last evening in Auckland before moving on into town where the night became a bit of a blur for me…

Sunday, 9th July 2017

With a 2pm flight back, this meant my recovery sleep was reluctantly cut a lot shorter than I would have liked. A mountain of bacon sandwiches cooked by Patrick certainly made life a lot easier. We analysed the game together, spoke about what everyone’s plans were for the following week then it was time for me to say my ‘goodbyes’. I thanked Elaine and Patrick for their fabulous hospitality and generosity of letting me stay. Patrick kindly dropped me off at the airport. Although my fun in Auckland had come to an end, I enjoyed every second of it. I made heaps of new friends and it was an experience I will never forget with memories that will last me a lifetime!

Written by Ethan Fox.

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