Lions tour: Chiefs look to repeat last year's heroics when taking on British and Irish Lions

Stephen Donald played an inspirational captain's knock in the win over Wales last year, and will now be looking to lead ...
PHIL WALTER/GETTY IMAGES

Stephen Donald played an inspirational captain's knock in the win over Wales last year, and will now be looking to lead from the front again against the Lions.

An international touring team, wearing red, coached by Warren Gatland, playing a mid-week match in Hamilton, in June, against a nothing-to-lose largely inexperienced Chiefs team captained by Stephen Donald. Anything sound familiar?

It's just over a year on from that stunning 40-7 victory the Chiefs claimed against Wales. Now, on Tuesday night, back at FMG Stadium Waikato, they'll be looking to claim an even bigger scalp, in the form of the British and Irish Lions.

For the tourists, there are, of course, bigger fish to fry, with the first test against the All Blacks looming on Saturday. Here it's their midweekers looking to give one final audition, and a bit of a tricky balancing act ahead of Eden Park, as they aim to carry on the momentum the camp garnered from the impressive win over New Zealand Maori in Rotorua last weekend.

Lions coach Warren Gatland gets a different sort of view at his side's captain's run on Monday.
DAVID ROGERS/GETTY IMAGES

Lions coach Warren Gatland gets a different sort of view at his side's captain's run on Monday.

For the Chiefs, it's the chance to pose Gatland and his troops a few more questions and land a couple of blows - either psychological or otherwise - with a hungry young side which is minus their six All Blacks and four players who featured for the Maori on Saturday night.

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Only Hika Elliot and Liam Messam have been selected to back up three days after Rotorua, providing some older heads on the bench in a team which features plenty of the backup cast - there are just 85 Super Rugby starts in 2017 among the 23 players.

But, as Chiefs coach Dave Rennie knows so well, this is the kind of fixture which can develop a player beyond his years.

"This time last year, going into the Welsh game, Mitch Brown was making his debut for us, and from there he's kicked on to dominate the six jersey and be a pretty important part of our group," he said. "So that's the sort of message we'll be giving to a lot of the young guys we're bringing in - it's the chance to make a bit of a statement."

The Chiefs parked their Super Rugby competition on a high after taking down the Hurricanes in Wellington a week and a half ago, with the players getting back together on Wednesday last week to prepare for this one.

With Donald to steer the team from first five-eighth and again take charge as captain, just like he did so inspirationally this time last year, Rennie said the 33-year-old had already been leading well from the front in preparation, certain to gee his lads up for a once-in-a-lifetime crack.

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"I think our leaders have done a great job in regards to highlighting what a special occasion it is, and the guys know it's an absolute privilege to play in this sort of fixture and they're really up for it," Rennie said. "So we're going to throw everything at it and hopefully really enjoy the occasion. We certainly don't want the young fellas to be scared and go into their shell."

Rennie may take some interest in the performances off the bench of first-five Finn Russell (one of Gatland's late callups) and winger Tommy Seymour, with that duo to be under his tutelage when he links up at Glasgow after the Super Rugby season.

But first and foremost the mind is still fixed on Hamilton - a place of course not too unfamiliar to one Lions coach, who indeed coached Donald and Messam when in charge of Waikato.

"Look you cut me open I'll probably bleed red, yellow and black," Gatland said. "I am very proud of my roots. It's a great place to have grown up.

"The amount of support that I've had personally has just been amazing.

"It's nice to be back and catch up with some friends. The unfortunate thing is we are here for such a short time but I'm really looking forward to what should be a great occasion."

But a great occasion for who? That is the question.

 - Stuff

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