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Interview: Sky Sports' Stuart Barnes and Miles Harrison on the British & Irish Lions

1st June 2017

With all 10 games of the 2017 British & Irish Lions tour of New Zealand showing exclusively live on Sky Sports, Sports4Bars caught up with the broadcaster’s commentary duo, Stuart Barnes and Miles Harrison, to get their opinions on how the tourists will fare in the three-match Test series

 

It’s something of an understatement to say that Stuart Barnes and Miles Harrison have clocked up a fair few air miles during their time as Sky Sports rugby commentators.

The duo, who have been working together for over 20 years at Sky, have forged their much-admired professional partnership in commentary boxes at iconic stadiums all over the world.

From Welford Road to Waikato, from Dublin to Dunedin and all points in-between, the authoritative and expert voices of Barnes and Harrison have accompanied some of the most iconic moments in recent rugby history see on our screens, not least the 2013 British & Irish Lions tour when Sam Warburton’s men won a 2-1 series victory.

Now the pair are preparing for another epic Lions adventure as they travel the 10,000-odd miles to New Zealand to cover the class of 2017 a they take on the World Champion All Blacks in their own backyard.

We caught up with the pair at Sky Sports HQ just days before their departure for the ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’ to find out just what they’re expecting during the tour as the Lions aim to win their first series in New Zealand since 1971.

“This is a massive challenge,” says Barnes. “The fact that New Zealand haven’t lost a home Test since 2009 and haven’t lost a Test in Auckland - where they will play the Lions twice on this tour – since 1994 just gives you the scale of the task for the team.

“If the Lions go out there and win the series they’ll be the greatest rugby team in the history of the sport, eclipsing the achievement of England winning the World Cup in 2003.”

Barnes, who was part of the Lions squad which toured New Zealand in 1993 and lost the series 2-1, knows more than most about the arduous nature of touring the toughest rugby environment on earth.

“I absolutely loved touring New Zealand as a player,” he says. “The team bus would roll into a small town and you’d be greeted by a party of Maori elders and a huge crowd of fans all wanting to catch a glimpse of the players.

“New Zealanders are fanatical supporters of the game and while they want the All Blacks to win, they also want them to see their team test themselves against the best, hence the massive excitement around the Lions. You really feel like you’re at the epicentre of world rugby when you’re in New Zealand.

“As a player, it’s the ‘boy scout’ adventure of the whole enterprise which appeals to you and the chance to be part of the history of the Lions.

“But it’s not just the players who feel that affinity with the team and the fans also have a huge connection. Whenever I’m walking around Bath or London or wherever, I’ll see people wearing the Lions jersey and it’s a brand which unites rugby people from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. They really feel that connection with the team.”

While a huge army of travelling fans will make the long pilgrimage to New Zealand, the vast majority of fans will be back at home, enjoying the action unfold on Sky Sports at a time when they’d normally be polishing off a bowl of cornflakes.

“For many rugby fans, a Lions tour is bigger than a World Cup,” says Harrison. “The Lions transcends the sport in many ways and it attracts interest from people who probably aren’t rank and file rugby supporters the rest of the time.

“The New Zealanders are also really excited about taking on the cream of British and Irish players, particularly as the 2005 series was so one-sided with the Lions failing to deliver on the rugby front.

“The breakfast time kick-offs in the UK offer a really fun aspect to watching the game. We’re seeing pubs and clubs really encouraging people to come down and watch the rugby in the bar alongside like-minded people by offering breakfast deals and the like.

“When you’re on tour it’s easy to get caught up in the ‘tour bubble’ but when I’m commentating, foremost in my mind is the image of the supporters back in the UK, packed into a bar with their mates, yelling on their team and enjoying the experience.”

So, do the pair think that the Lions have a chance of turning the tide of history and recording their first series win in New Zealand for 46 years?

“Of course the Lions have a chance,” says Barnes. “In a game of rugby with 15 blokes against another 15 blokes, anything can happen. You only need four or five players on one team to be slightly off their game and you’’ll get a shock result.

“Look at how the Scarlets upset the odds to win the Pro 12 Cup, beating Leinster and Munster in successive weeks or how Exeter Chiefs turned over Saracens in the Aviva Premiership semi-final before going on to win the title.

“The Lions have some exceptionally talented players at their disposal, including some world-class goal-kickers. While All Black fly-half Beauden Barrett is one of the most exciting players in world rugby, his goal-kicking is most defintely not world-class.

“So, if come the Tests, it rains and the conditions are wet and muddy and it turns into a six-point game, then I’d back the Lions to kick their goals and win.”

Harrison also believes that the Lions’ chances should not be dismissed out of hand.

“It’s going to be tough against a side of New Zealand’s pedigree on their home turf but there are definitely some good arguments which suggest that the Lions could be competitive this time around,” he says.

“We’ve just experienced a very high-quality Six Nations Championship which has shown northern hemisphere rugby in a very good light.

“There’s also the recent success of England in the Test arena, winning two successive Six Nations title as well as whitewashing Australia 3-0 in the Test series last summer.

“Many of the standout players from that series are now with the Lions, alongside the best players that Ireland, Scotland and Wales have to offer.

“And don’t forget Ireland’s magnificent 40-29 victory over New Zealand in Chicago back in November which showed that the All Blacks are not invincible.”

 

Saturday, June 3, 8.35am
Sky Sports 1 HD
NZ Provincial Barbarians v British & Irish Lions 

 

The latest issue of Club Rugby will go live on Friday so please go to www.clubrugby.org.uk for the latest news and views.

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