British & Irish workout wins hearts in New Plymouth     09 Jun 2005

Yet shortly before their team-mates took on Taranaki last night, non-playing members of the British & Irish Lions squad made New Plymouth’s Barrett street Hospital an exception to that rule.

Fullback Josh Lewsey, first-five Ronan O’Gara, prop Andy Sheridan and centre Gordon D’Arcy were among the group who mingled with staff, physiotherapists and patients alike on Wednesday.

Team Doctor James Robson and coach Eddie O’Sullivan were also present.

“It’s a great privilege to be here today,” Robson told those gathered after songs of welcome had been sung. “Rugby for me has created a wealth of lifelong friendships... and I only wish our two islands were closer so we could visit more often.”

The players lingered after speeches to sign autographs, pose for photos and take part in a ‘warm-up’ exercise routine.

“This unit enables people to work on their physical health in a way that is meaningful and goal-orientated for them," Oranga Ngatahi manager Philip Galley said.

“The way these guys are willing to give up their time and get amongst the people is absolutely fantastic. It’s a tremendous credit to them and whoever’s organising this tour.

"Sometimes people in professional sport prefer to give off a superhuman aura - and these guys are totally breaking that image today.”

Indeed, the overwhelming impression left on those present was that these Lions were keeping their word about injecting a taste of rugby pride into local communities.

“I’m originally from the northeast of England,” Galley confided as the team left to warm applause, headed for Taranaki Base Hospital, “and after this afternoon I’ll be back to my roots... go the Lions!"

“I don’t know who any of them are,” 62 year old autograph hunter Nancy Beltham added. “But they’re lovely.” - On the road with the 2005 British & Irish Lions