Published: Sat, June 03, 2017
Sports | By Nelson Rowe

'71 Lions revolutionised New Zealand rugby

This summer, the British and Irish Lions take on the toughest challenge in world rugby - a tour of New Zealand and a Test series against the All Blacks.

Owen Farrell insists the British and Irish Lions are heading to New Zealand confident they have the firepower to tame the All Blacks. Traditionally it's the touring team that gets harder hit, but there are some question marks over a number of All Blacks right now, most notably Dane Coles, who has been unable to train because of lingering concussion symptoms.

The visitors played 13 matches on tour; winning seven and losing six.

In other ways, however, it shows how little has changed, as revolutionary coach Carwyn James tried to develop the sort of "all-court game" that remains the hallmark of today's most successful teams but still needed a dominant scrum to do it. We'll get over there and we'll see [the rest of] you when you get here.

Steve Hansen, who followed Henry by coaching his country to the 2015 title, was similarly impressed.

Their current status, though, is all a far cry from when the Lions first set sail as rugby tourists in 1888 on a private enterprise trip to Australia and New Zealand.

The book is structured as a chronological account of the tour, presented nearly as a round-table conversation, so that players of both sides debate who threw the first punch in the battle of X, or whether the sustained by Y and Z were the result of planned thuggery or the outcome of legitimate rucking.

The teams' first meeting resulted in victory for New Zealand in Wellington. "I can not see many easy games for them in what is a full-on tour". "It was a wonder that nobody was killed", said Lions lock Gordon Brown.

The small town between Blenheim and Nelson was a mandatory pit stop for the Guys back then to pick up a pie fresh out of the oven, and in 1971 it also attracted a couple of the Lions players to witness a baking world record. Irishman McLoughlin broke his thumb with the blow, bringing an end to his tour.

After opening with a scratch side on Saturday in Whangerei against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians, the tourists face the Blues, the Crusaders, the Highlanders, New Zealand Maori and the Chiefs before the first Test. They did, though, earn a 14-14 draw in 1971 which sealed their only series victory in New Zealand.

The All Blacks, of course, didn't always win - the year before they'd been beaten 3-1 in South Africa.

When it comes to over-reliance on players who have done a job for him in the past, by contrast, Gatland continues to cause concern.

And having toured with the Lions to Australia in 2013, Cole has again enjoyed the squad-building process.

Anyway back to the second Test and the Lions were already 16 games into their tour when they took to Lancaster Park on 10 July.

Conversely, it ended the careers of several icons of New Zealand rugby, not least "Pinetree" Meads, but the All Blacks quickly learned their lessons and have been "bouncing back" ever since.

If the Lions can win that then its game on, if not then the odds have to favour a third sweep in four tours.

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