Saturday 20 January 2018

Watch - Lions squad serve up a stirring rendition of Fields of Athenry before departing for New Zealand

British & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland and captain Sam Warburton attended the dinner in London
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

The British and Irish Lions had one final engagement before they flew out to New Zealand for this summer's eagerly anticipated Test series - and they signed off in style on Sunday night.

A farewell event at the Roundhouse music venue in London gave Warren Gatland's side a chance to enjoy a relaxed evening out before the intensity of their battles with the All Blacks take centre stage.

Bedecked in burgundy velvet blazers, it was confirmed the squad's youngest member Maro Itoje handed the role of looking after traditional mascot Billy the cuddly Lion for the duration of the trip.

Yet it was the final act of the night that became the most memorable moment of the night, as the players gathered on stage to offer up a rendition of Fields of Athenry.

Some Lions stars looked a little uncomfortable as they took to a stage more used to welcoming the talents of Coldplay, Robbie Williams and their ilk, but they got into the spirit of the night with this performance.

The players involved in the Aviva Premiership and Pro12 finals joined up with the squad in London ­on Sunday looking to be integrated as quickly as possible ahead of the opening game of the 10-match tour, against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians in Whangarei on Saturday.

The Lions do not arrive in ­Auckland until Wednesday – ­following a stopover in Melbourne – and will make the 100-mile ­journey north to Whangarei on ­Friday.

Just a couple of months after going head to head in the RBS 6 Nations, the cream of English, Irish, Welsh and Scottish rugby will pitch in for a shared cause.

Gatland has already delivered on his promise of getting the players to, quite literally, sing from the same hymn-sheet by having them sing songs from all four nations, while personal relationships are also being forged through room-sharing and a selection of tour committees being formed.

"Yes, we're a choir," Owen Farrell said with a chuckle. "I'm enjoying it. That's one of the things that will bring you together... there's been a fair amount of it, to be fair, and I hope it will be good.

"It's just about trying to get to know each other, the same as anyone else when you first meet. Last week I (roomed with Ireland's) Robbie Henshaw. I've played against Robbie a few times, so it's good to get to know him a bit more.

"We've all been out for food a couple of times, had coffees, catching up with people we've met before and trying to get to know each other.

"It's pretty natural. Everyone's a good lad here, it's not cliquey, not hard to be part of. Everyone is on the same page with what we're trying to do and all I can say about the last week is being part of it has been brilliant."

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