British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland insists there are hidden gains to be found in understanding New Zealand culture prior to tackling the daunting prospect of overpowering the world champions this summer.
Gatland has named a 41-man squad for the 10-match tour, which begins with a clash against the New Zealand Barbarians in Whangarei on 3 June, and has once again installed Wales flanker Sam Warburton as captain.
Northampton’s Dylan Hartley became the third successive England skipper to miss out on Lions selection, while there was no place in the travelling party for fellow Six Nations winners Joe Launchbury, George Ford, James Haskell or Chris Robshaw.
The Lions have won just six of 38 Tests against the All Blacks, including a sole series victory in 1971, while their 2005 expedition ended in a 3-0 drubbing. Gatland believes an appreciation of New Zealand values could make the difference.
“I’ve told the players, coaches and staff to watch Hunt for the Wilderpeople with Sam Neill in it, or other films like the Whale Rider or Boy,” said Gatland, who defended selecting just two Scotland players in his squad. “It gives a little understanding of New Zealand humour and culture. If we do that and go prepared then we will understand our opposition and our enemy a little bit better.
“A lot of people have rocked up there in the past and haven’t been prepared well enough culturally for what is going to happen. it’s a tough place to go to and tour given the intensity and the knowledge of the nation.
“It’s not going to be like Australia in 2013 when we arrived in Melbourne and people were saying ‘who are these people wearing red jerseys?’”
Despite handing Warburton the armband, making him only the second player in Lions history to be chosen for the job twice, Gatland reiterated there are no guarantees the 28-year-old will make the starting XV for the first Test on 24 June.
“One of the things I admire about Sam is it’s not about Sam Warburton, it’s about the team,” added Gatland. “He’d be the first to understand should someone be playing better in the No7 position and we didn’t pick him. That was definitely one of the decisions which made it easier for me to select him as captain.”
Gatland opted for Ken Owens of Wales, Ireland’s Rory Best and Saracens’ Jamie George over Hartley for the three hooker slots, and offered the England captain no assurances he was next in line should injury hit.
“He possibly would be but until that happens it’s hard for me to give a definitive answer,” said Gatland. “He’s one of the players who has been unlucky. It’s probably not the best thing to be England captain in a Lions year.”