Powhiri, haka and a hymn
After months of anticipation the British and Irish Lions arrived in New Zealand to rousing scenes at Auckland International Airport on Wednesday.
It took just a few minutes for the Lions to send shivers up Kiwi spines, with their singing of the Welsh hymn Calon Lan a beautiful response to the Maori challenge.
Dressed in suits and ties, the Lions stood quietly as a Maori cultural group performed a powhiri, pulling their waka to shore in a metaphor of greeting, then laying down the first of many challenges the Lions will face.
The response from the touring party was just as dramatic, even if performed standing still en masse in formal clothes, in stark contrast to tattoos, feathers and traditional Maori clothing.
Calon Lan was chosen by the Lions players for this tour, as a song to follow their New Zealand greeting. It is a Welsh hymn written in the 1890s. A hymn that has become associated with Welsh rugby, sung before almost every test match involving Wales.
This Lions team has a Welsh captain in Sam Warburton, with former Wales coach Warren Gatland as coach.
Taken literally, Calon Lan means a clean heart or a pure heart.
Since its transformation from hymn to rugby anthem, the meaning has shifted and is now more about being true to yourself and to your team.
After their powerful first steps on to New Zealand soil, the Lions were greeted in the public waiting area, by fans three or four rows deep.
Fans adorned in British Isles red yelled out the players’ names as they arrived one-by-one, and some stopped to chat, with Jerry Martin using a wildly flapped Irish flag as a player magnet.
The Lions arrived not by British Airways, Air New Zealand or Aer Lingus, but on a Qantas flight.
The Lions have a 3900kg of baggage in total, roughly equating to 9731 rugby balls. Most of their equipment will have been shipped to New Zealand a couple of months ago.
The Lions first game is on Saturday, June 3 versus the New Zealand Barbarians at Okara Park in Whangarei.
Over the next month or so they will play the three test matches against the All Blacks as well as games against the Blues, Crusaders, Highlanders, New Zealand Maori, Chiefs and Hurricanes.
Lions coach Warrren Gatland recieves a hongi on arrival at Auckland Airport.