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My Lions Love Affair
DOK (IP Logged)
09 February, 2018 18:56
I'm playing behind the Times firewall today, happened on to this one.
Love the Brian Moore story!

Published May 28 2017 by Sean Fitzpatrick.

The two gems in my collection of opponents’ jerseys? The Lions shirts worn by Gavin Hastings and Brian Moore. My biggest idol growing up? Gareth Edwards in 1971. I think those two items of information give you a hint of my reverence for the Lions.

That 1971 squad left a huge imprint in the collective memory of New Zealanders. I was eight at the time. On the Monday morning at school, after the Tests, we were out practising the dive pass like Gareth, or trying the new round-the-corner place kicking style that Barry John pioneered.

Attacking rugby or physical rugby, the boys of 1971 could do whatever it took. It doesn’t matter what country you come from, they must be regarded as one of the sport’s iconic teams.

Other Lions snapshots from my teenage years include: Wales centre Steve Fenwick in 1977 with his straw blond hair; Ollie Campbell and his ginger top and dodgy hamstring in 1983; sitting in the terraces, aged 19, and watching the Auckland team I dreamt of representing beat the Lions on the same tour. These are images that are more vivid in my mind than some of the games I played for the All Blacks.

Ten years after sitting in the stands to watch the Lions, I found myself leading New Zealand into a series against them. We had a healthy respect for the tourists because a) they were the Lions; and b) they had a bedrock of hardened warriors from England — Brian Moore, Dean Richards, Peter Winterbottom, Dewi Morris, Rob Andrew, Jerry Guscott — supplemented by some talented Celts such as Gavin Hastings, Ieuan Evans and Nick Popplewell. Nobody had heard of Ben Clarke before the tour. We knew about him by the end, for sure.

We got lucky in the first Test. Even I would concede that the penalty awarded against the tourists in the closing stages was harsh. But Grant Fox stepped up to do what Grant Fox did best and that was kick the goal. We won 20-18.

The week after that, I was part of an Auckland side who beat a Lions team that included 13 of those who would line up for the second Test. Maybe those two wins lulled us into a false sense of ­security because they cleaned us out in the second Test at Wellington the following Saturday.

That was the worst game of my life. Our set-piece was poor and it was my knock-on which handed over the ball and led to their decisive try. Moore was my opposite number that day and he was a horrible specimen — I say that as a ­compliment. Brian still dines out on his story of a Kiwi fan throwing a beer can at him towards the end of the game. He picked it up, gave the crowd that ­contemptuous look that only Brian can and promptly downed it.

If that match was the worst 80 minutes of my life then what followed was the worst 72 hours of my career. Rugby had been pretty kind to me up until then. I had won a World Cup on home soil within a year of breaking into the All Blacks team and enjoyed domestic success with ­Auckland. Sure, we lost the World Cup semi-final in 1991 but the following year I was named New Zealand captain.

In the days after Wellington, I wasn’t sure if I would still be in the team, never mind lead it. If anything, our coach was under more pressure than me. Laurie Mains’ dictatorial style and selections had already made him unpopular with quite a lot of the media and public. I remember seeing a billboard around this time that said: “We need a coach not a Laurie!” Good mates of mine wanted him out.

I’m not sure that I left the house on the Sunday and Monday after the defeat but after a nervous wait, I heard on the radio — Laurie never confided to me during my first year as skipper — that I had kept my place. That was also the day that Waikato beat their midweek team 38-10. Though none of the Test players was involved it gave us a boost because we could see how divided they were as a group.

The Lions had enjoyed the better of the lineout — having 6ft 10in Martin Bayfield didn’t do them any harm — so Laurie brought in former All Black lock Andy Haden to work with us. It was the first time we had ever had specialist coaching in that area. It was a shrewd move by Laurie because not only did Andy know his stuff but it took some of the heat off him.

We stayed at the Poenamo hotel on the north shore of Auckland in the days before the third Test. The only thing I remember Laurie saying in the team meeting before we left the hotel for Eden Park was: “Just get on the bus.” The mood on the bus was solemn but it felt right.

There is real strength in depth in this Lions squad. They need tough opposition
From the moment the game started I knew we would win. We had a focus and intensity about us that, even when we were 10-0 down, meant we were not going to become the second group of All Blacks to lose a series to the Lions. The game ­finished 30-13 and the scoreline was a fair reflection of the game.

There were beers afterwards, with our opponents as well as among ourselves. Gavin Hastings, their captain, had been a friend since 1987 when he came out to play a season on the same university side in Auckland. Now, living in the UK, I often run into the likes of Moore, Evans and Will Carling, who was also on that tour. I’m not sure I would want to take another ride on that rollercoaster of emotion but I count myself privileged to have played against these guys.

British and Irish players get their chance every four years but for the ­TriNations teams the Lions tours only come round once every 12. Julian Savea and Broadie Retallick could have easily retired after the 2015 World Cup win but the prospect of facing the Lions kept them going. That’s what the Lions mean in New Zealand.

If you had asked me 18 months ago if I thought the 2017 Lions squad had any chance of winning this summer I would have said no. But since then we have had Ireland beating New Zealand in Chicago and the best Six Nations I can remember.

Coaches Eddie Jones, Vern Cotter and Joe Schmidt have taken a good crop of players and improved them. Conor Murray and Rhys Webb could be the best two scrum-halves in the world. Owen Farrell is certainly the best kicker. Up front, Tadhg Furlong and Maro Itoje look as if they were born to play Test rugby. There have been some suggestions that the ­itinerary — playing the Maoris and all five of the Super Rugby franchises — will take too much out of the Lions before the Tests. I don’t buy that. There is real strength in depth in the Lions squad and the only way to find out just how deep it goes is to take on tough opposition. They must embrace the challenge. That’s what the All Black midweek sides that Warren Gatland played in did.

That said, I think the first Test will come too soon for them. The second, on the other hand, could be their chance. If they win that, the pressure and the New Zealand nation will turn on the All Blacks. I experienced that in 1993 and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

 
Re: My Lions Love Affair
RodneyRegis (IP Logged)
10 February, 2018 13:24
Have you gone back in time this morning dok? Fancy buying me some bitcoin?

Great article though. He wasn't wrong with his predictions either.


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