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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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Jim Kayes: The Lions brand must be maintained

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Jim Kayes     28 Jun 2017     Getty Images

The British & Irish Lions midweek team held off a strong finishing Hurricanes side to escape with a 31-31 draw in Wellington in the final non-Test match of the tour.

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It comes after they were beaten in the first Test at Eden Park, a late try providing a somewhat flattering 30-15 margin against the All Blacks - who most expect will be even better in the second Test in Wellington.

Henry, who coached the All Blacks to a three-nil series win when the Lions last toured New Zealand in 2005, doesn’t think this year’s team is good enough to stop another whitewash.

It will continue a sorry record against the All Blacks, the Lions having won just six and drawn three in 39 Tests, and secured a series only once, in 1971.

They had series wins against the Wallabies in 1989 and 2013 under current coach Warren Gatland, and against South Africa in 1997 and 1974, but the challenge of combining four Test teams into one, in a short space of time is clearly tough.

Henry should know, he tried to do it in 2001, and though his Lions won the first Test against the Wallabies, they lost the series 2-1.

Yet Henry is a huge fan of the Lions and insists they not only need to remain in rugby, but more room has to be made for them in the game’s cluttered calendar.

“The Lions brand is hugely important to world rugby and it needs to be kept firing,” Henry said.

“They’ve got so much rugby going on in the northern hemisphere - they are playing too much as it is and they’re looking for ways of decreasing that, but the Lions is the first thing they should keep.”



Having coached both teams, Henry says it is the pinnacle of any player's career to play for the Lions, or in a Test match against them.

“If you ask Dan Carter which game he remembers the most it will probably be the Lions second Test in Wellington (when he was sensational in scoring 33 of the All Blacks 48 points).

“It’s a marvellous concept, a marvellous team, it needs to be kept going and helped as much as possible to make it even better.”

Squeezing the Lions into the calendar is the challenge. This year’s team arrived in New Zealand three days before the first match and were clearly off their game. There is already speculation that futures Lions could be shorter, with perhaps one or two warm up games and then into the Tests.

That would be a huge pity as the games against the five Investec Super Rugby teams have been a real feature of the tour. Though a draw like the 31-31 against the Hurricanes seldom pleases - that match was hugely entertaining for the full house at Westpac Stadium.

The energy the Lions’ fans bring to a game is something no other team’s supporters can replicate.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen says retaining the Lions is an important aspect of paying respect to the game’s history.

Rugby is built on history, it doesn’t matter if it’s the All Blacks, the Lions, England, France whoever, there is a lot of history there.

“There’s only one thing more important than the All Blacks in my mind and that’s the game itself.

“Having a team like the Lions come here and play more than just Test matches is fantastic. Having their fans who travel so magnificently well, get a feel for New Zealand - and by and large I think New Zealanders are embracing them and making us all proud to be New Zealanders because we are selling our country, that’s important.

“It’s just a magnificent experience that should go on forever.”