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