All Black Ioane's family takes in marooned Lions fan
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: A stranded British and Irish Lions supporter has told how a stranger's act of kindness resulted in him bunking down at the home of All Blacks sensation Rieko Ioane and his brother Akira.
The stranger was the players' mother Sandra, who took pity on Lions fan Alex Edwards when he turned up at the Ponsonby Rugby Club in Auckland, where she works, asking to park his van overnight.
Rather than leave him to sleep in his vehicle on a bitter winter's night, she opened her home to the Englishman, who had no idea who his hosts were.
"Her two lads came in and she said: 'This is Akira and Rieko'," he told Radio Sport of the incident, which took place before the Lions-Blues match earlier this month.
"I still didn't twig, I just thought: 'Blooming heck, these are big units, I'd best not do anything too bad in the house'."
Sandra said Edwards began to have his suspicions, but she decided to string him on a little longer.
"He didn't click, then we were having a cup of tea and he says: 'Those boys, I've seen them before.' I said: 'Nah mate'," she said.
It was only when chatting about rugby over a cup of tea with the brothers' father Ed and asking if the boys played for local club Ponsonby that realisation dawned.
"He said they're starting for the Blues and I was like, 'ah OK, the penny's dropped. I feel like a lemon," Edwards said.
Wing Rieko was a surprise starter in Saturday's opening Lions Test, grabbing two tries to justify his selection in sensational fashion, while highly rated flank Akira is on the cusp of international honours.
"They were really cool, said: 'How's it going, bro.' Shook hands... talked rugby, just nice, really really good blokes," Edwards said.
Sandra said she extended a "marae-style" welcome, referring to the traditional Maori communal meeting house.
"It was mattress on the floor, I had the fire going, showed him where the toilet was, where the shower was and said: 'You help yourself for a feed mate, this is all do your own stuff.' Yeah it was cool," she said.
Edwards said the encounter was "mental" and would be a treasured memory of his trip to New Zealand.
"I can't imagine it happening back home, it's been brilliant," he said.