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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: Stu Wilson

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Jim Kayes     18 Apr 2017     Getty Images

His school in Masterton closed for the afternoon to allow the students to get down to Memorial Park to watch Wairarapa-Bush take on the touring British & Irish side. The Lions eked out a 9-6 victory but for Wilson it was simply a chance to see up close the team everyone was talking about.

“They were here for months and in school we had to do a project on them. You had to cuts things out of the paper and highlight a player. The whole country went into a melt down. If you weren’t talking about the Lions it was because you were dead.”

QUICK TAP: LIONS MEMORIES - SIR COLIN MEADS

Wilson saw the Lions again in 1971 when wing David Duckham was part of a visit to Wairarapa College before another match against the Bush, this time a more comfortable 27-6 win. Then, like 1966, it was a chance for Wilson to get a peak at Mike Gibson, the Irish back he rated above all other Lions. “I played against him in ’78 and shook his hand after the match. I was completely lost for words,” says Wilson, a man seldom short of quip.

Injury had kept Wilson out of the All Blacks in 1977, a series New Zealand won 3-1, but in 1983 he was able to write himself into the record books with a hattrick of tries in the fourth Test at Eden Park, securing his spot as New Zealand’s leading Test try scorer.

“I hadn’t scored a try for a year and the harder I tried, the worse I got,” Wilson says of the build up to the four-Test series. “I tried too hard in the first two Tests but in Dunedin I got one, to go equal with Kirky (the great loose forward Ian Kirkpatrick who had scored a record 16 Test tries). Then in Auckland I got three. It’s funny how it goes; you go a year without scoring and then you get three in a Test against the Lions.”

Wilson wasn’t to know it at the time, but those were the last Test tries he would score for the All Blacks. While his memory of the finer detail of past Lions tours is fading, Wilson knows they were a huge and enjoyable occasion for New Zealand. “That was our World Cup. They used to come here for three months and they became part and parcel of society.”

The All Blacks won the series 4-0 in 1983, with Wilson feeling a measure of sympathy for the touring Lions. “To come here in our winter for a couple months and play almost every provincial team we’ve got and the All Blacks – you’ve got to be brave to do that.

“By the time they got to Eden Park (for the fourth Test) they were fairly ragged. The provincial sides had got stuck into them and when they got to Eden Park a lot of the guys just wanted to get on the plane and go home. And we heard that (coach) Jim Telfer smashed them on the Friday before the Test, we loved it when we heard that.”

Wilson says though it is much shorter, this year’s 10-match tour will be tougher with games against all five Investec Super Rugby franchises and a match against the Maori All Blacks. He warns that in a three Test series, winning the first Test is crucial “otherwise you’re chasing the series”. Taking your chances was also key. “We made sure when we got an opportunity we nailed it, and they didn’t.”

He’s sure that under Kiwi coach Warren Gatland the Lions will connect with local communities off the field and be tough to beat on the field. “They have the players. They have guys who would make the All Blacks, who won’t get a start for the Lions in a Test. And they will have a crack at us.

“It’s about injuries and how they come together as a team. If their top team can stay together, if they can keep their stars fit, then they have a great chance.”