New Zealand has celebrated one year to go until the New Zealand Lions Series 2017 with a fitting reminder of what’s at stake – on and off the field.
‘One year to go’ until The British & Irish Lions tour New Zealand was marked on 3 June with an only-in-New-Zealand cultural ceremony involving the presentation of carved taiaha – a traditional Maori staff used in challenge – which will have significance for competing teams on the field as well as visitors coming to watch and experience the local culture and hospitality.
The ceremony centred on seven traditional Māori taiaha or spear-shaped weapons, which will become the official trophies for the 2017 series. The precious taiaha were hand-carved at the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute in Rotorua and blessed before being presented to mayors and representatives of the seven host regions at the one-year-to-go celebration in Auckland.
New Zealand’s Māori culture plays a leading role in the spirit of rugby and is most evident in the haka or battle cry performed by the All Blacks before each game. Taiaha are also associated with a challenge and were chosen as trophies for their cultural meaning. The weapon is used in the wero – the traditional Māori challenge during a pōwhiri or formal welcoming ceremony. A wero is commonly given to heads of state and visiting dignitaries welcomed to New Zealand.
The special Lions Series taiaha will spearhead promotion in each host region during the 12-month build up to the series, before being awarded to winners of each match played in Whangarei, Auckland, Hamilton, Rotorua, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.
New Zealand Rugby Chief Executive, Steve Tew says the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians, the Maori All Blacks and the five Investec Super Rugby teams will be doing their very best to keep the taiaha in New Zealand but will face stiff opposition. The All Blacks will compete for the New Zealand Lions Series 2017 trophy.
More than 20,000 visitors are expected to follow The British & Irish Lions tour around New Zealand and the message to those planning the trip is “come for the rugby and experience it all”. The series spans nearly six weeks taking in seven of New Zealand’s most popular and geographically diverse regions from sub-tropical Northland in the top of the North Island to Otago in the depths of the South Island.
Host regions have begun preparing for the influx of visitors with additional infrastructure, plans for fan zones, fan trails and other match-related experiences for fans – as well as a variety of other local events and celebrations to coincide with the rugby action.