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Lynn McConnell

Southland-born Lynn McConnell is a sportswriter/historian with 40 years experience in journalism having been sports editor of The Evening Post and The Southland Times. Lynn has written several books including 'Behind the Silver Fern: Playing Rugby for New Zealand' together with Tony Johnson.

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Lions Flashback: 1983

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allblacks.com     14 Mar 2017     Getty Images

That was surprising because the two leading contenders to coach the side, Willie-John McBride, who was appointed manager, and Jim Telfer, who got the coaching job, were members of the 1966 team.

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The importance of choosing the right captain was another lesson not heeded. Military man Mike Campbell-Lamerton was the leader in 1966, and another military man hooker Ciaran Fitzgerald, got the job in 1983.

But there were serious concerns that Fitzgerald was not even among the top two hookers available. It didn't help that Ireland beat English just before the side was named and the man who might have been a key asset on the tour, England hooker Peter Wheeler, didn't even make it.

The second hooker choice was Scotsman Colin Deans and it wasn't long before he was regarded, by all who saw him in action, as the best in the touring side. But team management chose Fitzgerald for each of the Tests.

It didn't help that the Five Nations that year was poor. While Ireland had won the Triple Crown, England had played well below their best, Wales were ordinary and Scotland were off their game.

Hooker wasn't the only position with a selection conundrum. First five-eighths was another. Ireland's Ollie Campbell had been a genuine force to be reckoned with in the northern hemisphere, but like Phil Bennett on the 1977 tour of New Zealand, he found touring did not bring out his best play.

John Rutherford, who appeared to thrive in the opportunities provided in New Zealand, was deserving of a Test start, but he had to play in the centres where he was more than a handful.

That he could oust those chosen originally for the mid-field task highlights again the inadequacy of the selection process.

It didn't help either that the side struck injury misfortunes. Halfback Terry Holmes was a key pivot for attacking hopes but broke down a quarter of the way into the first Test. Loose forward Jeff Squire and prop Ian Stephens should have been in the first string side but they developed injuries and were never a factor.

New Zealand had their own concerns. Captain Graham Mourie had retired and it was only two years after the great schism in the game caused by the 1981 Springbok tour. The game had suffered because of that and many young players were attracted to soccer as the All Whites beat all the odds in a fascinating road through the qualifiers to reach a place at the 1982 World Cup.

They did have an experienced side with Allan Hewson at fullback, Stu Wilson and Bernie Fraser on the wings, Seven Pokere was at centre while Warwick Taylor was introduced at second five-eighths. Ian Dunn, younger brother of Eddie, played first five-eighths in the first and fourth Tests, when Wayne Smith was unavailable due to injury. Dave Loveridge was at halfback throughout.

The pack was unchanged through the series. Murray Mexted was at No.8 with Jock Hobbs, making his debut, and Mark Shaw on the flanks. Andy Haden and Gary Whetton were at lock while John Ashworth, Andy Dalton and Gary Knight were the front row.

For all that Telfer would say later that he went into the tour confident he was good enough to coach the side, but ended realising that he wasn't because he couldn't get the best out of the players. And he didn't know who would have been good enough because New Zealand were well in front in player development and the way they played the game.

"We deserved to be beaten. And it was a pretty sad tour by the time we finished," he said in Behind the Lions.

It didn't help when they were beaten by Auckland in the second game of the tour. Future All Blacks first five-eighths Grant Fox marked his arrival on the stage with a dropped goal that won the game 13-12.

But impressive wins over Bay of Plenty (34-16), Wellington (27-19), Manawatu (25-18) and a competitive Mid Canterbury team (26-6) gave them hope going into the first Test in Christchurch.

The Lions were in with a show too, down 12-13, after flanker Mark Shaw scored the only try of the game for the All Blacks. A Lions' dropped goal attempt narrowly missed before fullback Allan Hewson made sure his dropped goal attempt didn't miss to wrap it up for the All Blacks.

Before the second Test they beat West Coast 52-16, Southland 41-3 and Wairarapa Bush 57-10.

The second Test, in Wellington, was regarded as a classic of how to control the ball in the wind that used to blow through the old Athletic Park. The Lions didn't help themselves with Fitzgerald throwing six 'not-straights' to lineouts. The All Blacks led 9-0 at half-time, courtesy of a try to the player of the day halfback Dave Loveridge who was the perfect foil for his hard-working forward pack.

Playing into the wind in the second half the All Blacks totally dominated possession. They knew Ollie Campbell's goal-kicking boot could be dangerous but he wasn't given an opportunity in an impressive display.

The Lions had a bit of a break in Northland before beating the home team in Whangarei 21-12. But in midweek they lost to Canterbury 20-22.

They then went to Dunedin for the third Test, the famed 'wetsuit' Test. Conditions were so cold and wet that the All Blacks backs decided to put wetsuit vests on in a bid to combat hypothermia. Rutherford was outstanding among the Lions backs but Stu Wilson equalled the All Blacks try-scoring record of 16 tries as New Zealand won 15-8.

The tour rolled on with wins over Hawke's Bay (25-19), Counties (25-16) and Waikato 40-13).

However, as Ollie Campbell said, after pulling a hamstring while scoring a try against Waikato, and then having to play in the fourth Test, "Our bags were packed mentally and we were gone."

The All Blacks ran rampant winning 38-6 and Campbell said it was difficult to swallow being one of two teams to be whitewashed while at the same time not having left any sort of legacy.

"At the same time, it was such an invigorating experience to play against New Zealand. You go through club, province, country, you win a Triple Crown, then the Lions – you think you're at the pinnacle. Then you go to New Zealand. You come up against this wave after wave of attack. You're thinking. 'There is another level'," he said.