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Jim Kayes

Jim Kayes has been covering rugby since the late 1990s across print/online, radio and television with The Dominion Post, Stuff.co.nz, TV3 and Newshub, Radio Live and Radio Sport.  He's been to five World Cups, covered almost 200 All Blacks Tests and was on safari with the Lions when the British and Irish side last toured New Zealand, in 2005.

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Lions Memories: Richie McCaw

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Jim Kayes     03 May 2017     Getty Images

He was in Form 2 at Kurow Area School when the British & Irish Lions toured in 1993 and recalls watching the Tests. “We didn’t get the hype around them (in the Hakataramea Valley). I didn’t understand the significance of them. I remember being shocked we lost the second Test.”

QUICK TAP: LIONS HAVE GREAT POTENTIAL TO BEAT THE ALL BLACKS

McCaw got a different view of the Lions at the end of 2004 when he was involved in a promotional shoot ahead of the following year’s tour and then as the fans started arriving ahead of the tour in 2005 it dawned on him just how big the tours was. Then he spent four weeks watching. “It was weird to see this team playing up and down the country and wondering what we were going to get.”

What they got was a Lions team that failed to get anywhere close to the expectations the huge British and Irish media contingent and their coach had heaped on them. On the eve of the first Test in Christchurch coach Sir Clive Woodward reckoned he had “a warm feeling” about how well his side would play. Instead on a bitterly cold night they were smashed with lock Ali Williams leading the way as he embarrassed the Lions lineout. The 21-3 scoreline - and 18 point margin - was a reasonable reflection of the All Blacks’ dominance.

“There had been a lot of hype around their pack and we knew it was going to be a big challenge but we cleaned up in the lineouts and didn’t give them a show,” McCaw says. “It was a pretty damned good performance to get things under way.”

McCaw says it’s a pity the All Blacks convincing performance was overshadowed by the drama around Lions captain Brian O’Driscoll being invalided out of the series. He felt for O’Driscoll, but equally for All Blacks captain Tana Umaga and hooker Keven Mealamu who were accused of deliberately injuring him. That was not the case, he says.

The off field drama did have one positive outcome as it continued to hog the headlines in the build up to the second Test in Wellington. “It gave us extra motivation to do our talking on the field. We were pretty tight going into that second Test.”

Yet it was the Lions who struck first, captain Gareth Thomas crossing for a try in just the second minute. It was a false sign of what would unfold as the All Blacks and one in particular, produced a stunning display. Dan Carter finished with two tries and 33 points in the record 48-18 win.

“There’s no way I’d imagined we’d put out the performance we did,” McCaw admits. “It was a pretty cool day to be involved in, and to see Dan play the way he did, that was pretty cool too.”

A tight hamstring kept McCaw out of the third Test and Carter was missing too with Luke McAlister on debut at first five, but their absences didn’t help the Lions who were hammered 38-19, with Umaga scoring two of the All Blacks five tries.

The rout was complete - just like McCaw’s Lions education. “What I now understood was how special the Lions are for the guys who play for them. I was a little bit naive about what it meant to them and to their supporters. I was also thankful I’d got the opportunity to play them. There are a lot of really good All Blacks who never get that chance, and I was pretty happy we won the series (3-0).”

McCaw’s watched “a little bit of footy” since he retired after the 2015 World Cup triumph and will be at the two Tests in Auckland in June and July, and at the Crusaders match against the Lions in Christchurch. He thinks Lions coach Warren Gatland has some tough calls to make as he whittles his squad of 41 down to the 23 for the first test.

“He has to be careful whether he selects the best players, or the best combination of players,” McCaw says, adding that bringing four countries together is a challenge he’s happy New Zealand, Australia and South Africa never tried.

As for the All Blacks, he expects a settled side based largely on last year’s success. “We’ve got a few injuries at the moment but we’ve also got plenty of depth. They’ll be well prepared and excited.”

The former skipper is confident his old team will win this year’s series, just as they did in 2005, suggesting they have too much X-factor in the backs for a Lions team he expects to try and stifle the All Blacks. “Guys like Beauden Barrett are going to cause headaches for the Lions. It (X-factor) is what makes the All Blacks a step ahead of the rest.”