Hav­ing thought the op­por­tu­nity had passed him by, cen­tre Dwayne Sweeney loved ev­ery sec­ond of fac­ing the Lions in Whangarei

Rugby World - - KYLE SINCKLER -

WITH THE Lions only vis­it­ing the Land of the Long White Cloud ev­ery 12 years, it’s easy to un­der­stand why the chance to play against the world-fa­mous tour­ing side con­sti­tutes a ca­reer-defin­ing mo­ment for many Kiwi play­ers. At least that’s what New Zealand Pro­vin­cial Bar­bar­ians cen­tre Dwayne Sweeney thought af­ter his side ran the Lions close in the tour opener, los­ing 13-7.

“I never thought I would get the op­por­tu­nity to play against the Lions,” he told Rugby World,

“so if you put it in that per­spec­tive it was the best (mo­ment of my rugby ca­reer) – I loved it.”

He did not try to hide his de­light. Af­ter the match, ex­pe­ri­enced Maori cap Sweeney was loi­ter­ing around the press area in a red No 12 shirt he had swapped with Ben Te’o, look­ing for folk to talk to. He was just ex­cited about re­liv­ing his ex­pe­ri­ences.

So what did he say to the Lions, and Te’o, af­ter the game? “I just said it was a priv­i­lege to play against him. I haven’t played Test rugby and he’s play­ing for Eng­land and he played well against us. It’s al­ways good to test your­self against guys at the top of the game and I en­joyed it. I swapped shirts in their chang­ing room, a few of the boys walked be­tween the two (chang­ing rooms). Te’o was in the shower so I just rolled in and waited for him to fin­ish. Our boys had a few beers too.

“The Lions are very re­spect­ful peo­ple by na­ture. I have played a bit of rugby in the north­ern hemi­sphere, with the Maoris, and it’s tough out there but every­one is re­ally re­spect­ful off the field. I think they re­spected what we put out and like­wise we re­spected them, so we thor­oughly en­joyed it. It was a great night.” What you can eas­ily for­get is that the Lions not only bring

their own crowd with them but they draw lo­cals to games in their droves. Su­per Rugby fans mul­ti­ply when the Lions roll into town. And for the Baa-Baas – who could count sheep farm­ers, odd-job men and semi-pros among their ranks – the tour opener con­sti­tuted the big­gest crowd that most of them had ever per­formed for. The hosts rose to the oc­ca­sion, frus­trat­ing the Lions.

“It was def­i­nitely a buzz, right from the bus ride here, out with the peo­ple,” says Sweeney, 32. “The Lions bring in such a big crowd and for us to go out there and ex­pe­ri­ence it was pretty spe­cial.

“We were pretty con­fi­dent com­ing in, which I know a lot of peo­ple find sur­pris­ing. It showed out there. We put it out there and there was a big shift we put in on defence, just be­fore half-time. We re­ally dug in deep and held them out. We thought: ‘Okay, we’re right in this, if we can keep it up and if a few things go our way we can pull the win off.’ It wasn’t that way… but we came close.

“The Lions were big and phys­i­cal, as we knew they would be. They were ath­letic and had speed and size, which is al­ways hard to de­fend. I thought we scram­bled re­ally well to cover that. It wasn’t that they didn’t look like they would score, but some­how we man­aged to stop it and I think it was prob­a­bly down to the fact we were will­ing to work so hard for each other, for our prov­inces, our peo­ple, our fam­ily and friends.

“That is what it was all about. None of us had a big pay cheque – we just put on a per­for­mance for the love of the game.

“They only come ev­ery 12 years and I love the fact the na­tions all bond to­gether. To do that and come down here is pretty cool. And they bring a lot of fans, they are good for the coun­try.

“We love rugby in New Zealand and to get the best play­ers from the north­ern hemi­sphere to tour and play guys like us who play club rugby, it’s pretty spe­cial.”

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