British and Irish Lions 2017: Tour opener not under threat despite torrential rain in Whangarei

More than 24 hours of heavy rain is expected to batter Northland ahead of the first match of the British and Irish Lions tour

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The Independent Online

A deluge of rain over the next 24 hours in Whangarei will not affect preparations for the British and Irish Lions’ opening match of their tour of New Zealand despite flash flooding in the Northland area.

Fears arose for the tour opener against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians as heavy rain battered the Whangarei and the surrounding area, with suggestions that the game at Toll Stadium could become the first Lions match in history to be called off due to a waterlogged pitch.

As the Lions squad headed north from Auckland ahead of their first game in New Zealand, monsoon conditions battered the Northland area, with roads starting to flood and fields around the town already waterlogged more than 24 hours before kick-off.

The weather forecast does not make much better reading either. The New Zealand Met Service predicts “rain, possibly heavy with thunderstorms, hail and downpours” over the next 24 hours, with an expectation of more than 21mm of rain to fall in just two hours overnight. More worryingly is the fact that the downpour is not due to stop until well after Saturday’s game has finished, meaning the pitch will not get a chance to dry out between now and kick-off at 19:35 local time [08:35 Saturday BST].

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Saturday’s forecast makes slightly better reading, with “rain, with heavy falls, easing in the afternoon and clearing in the evening” expected, with the showers hopefully calming down around two hours before kick-off, though light drizzle is still expected to fall throughout the match.

The Lions have never been forced to abandon a game in their history, although the opening game of the 2013 tour of Australia – which actually took place in Hong Kong – certainly fell into the category of one that should have been.

The intense humidity of the evenings in Hong Kong saw both the Lions and the Barbarians players struggle to cope in 2013 in a game that was played in conditions that saw humidity levels touch 94 per cent and giant fans erected next to the pitch in an effort to cool players. Having been asked about the first game of the last tour earlier this week, Lions No 8 Taulupe Faletau was unable to recall how important the match was for the tour, only “how bloody hot it was”.

Referee Angus Gardner will have the final call on whether the match goes ahead or not, although as the Lions took to the Toll Stadium pitch for the captain’s run on Friday, it remarkably looked in good condition.

A base layer of sand under the Toll Stadium turf helps with drainage, and New Zealand Rugby Union officials confirmed that they have no fears over the match taking place, adding that they still expect a 20,000 sell-out crowd to attend even though the majority will be stood on the large bank that surrounds the pitch.

World Rugby state that the playing surface “must be safe to play on at all times”, meaning that there can be no large areas of standing water due to the potential risk of drowning if players were to get pinned to the floor in a ruck or collapsed maul.