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Memory of great Lions past stirs coaches

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 22/06/2017 Angelo Risso

Steve Hansen was 12 years old when the British and Irish Lions conquered New Zealand in 1971, Warren Gatland, not yet eight.

But the victorious tour - and the indelible legacy of Barry John and company on the Shaky Isles - remains with both Kiwi coaches to this day, as their All Blacks and Lions troops prepare for Saturday's Test battle.

The Mosgiel-born Hansen attended his first ever Test match at Carisbrook in June 1971, where the Lions trumped the Kiwis 9-3 in the first of a four-Test series they went on to win 2-1 with one draw.

Standing on the fence, he recalled hearing the players' on-field banter - particularly one exchange between Sandy Carmichael and Colin Meads.

"It was awesome because I was right up by the fence and I overheard Carmichael say to Colin Meads, `How do you like that scrummaging, boy?' Anyway, Meads just said, `Yeah not too bad but we've just scored a try'," Hansen said.

"My sense of humour enjoyed that.

"I thought, 'Wow, these guys actually talk to each other on the park."

As it turns out, Hansen's memory is hazy. Carmichael didn't play in the first Test at Carisbrook, having been beaten to a pulp by Canterbury the week before and Meads' All Blacks didn't score a try on that day.

Nevertheless, Hansen's point remains - Lions tours and the sheer novelty of a touring rugby side linger in the memory.

It's unclear if Gatland went along to the Lions' 35-14 win over Waikato in May 1971. But he was certainly present 22 years later, dotting down for a try as the Mooloo men crushed the tourists 38-10 in Hamilton.

That 1971 tour was Gatland's first taste of overseas rugby, in a career that has taken him from New Zealand to the British Isles.

"I thought rugby was invented in New Zealand when I was growing up and I thought the All Blacks could never be beaten," Gatland said.

"It did have an impact on me."

Hansen has spent parts of this week drilling his troops on the Lions' history in New Zealand - "the good, the bad and the ugly," as he phrased it.

Playing the Test selection was a once-in-a-career proposition.

"The past is important, it helps shape the future," Hansen said.

"You look at the (provincial Barbarians) who played in that very first game, from the lesser teams, made up from the non-franchise teams. What a great opportunity - they loved it (and) that'll excite them to go to higher levels.

"That's what this Lions tour does for our rugby."

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