Jim Kayes

Jim Kayes has been covering rugby since the late 1990s across print/online, radio and television with The Dominion Post,, 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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OPINION: Hunger key for new All Blacks

Getty Images     15 Nov 2017     Getty Images

Since the turn of the century the All Blacks have played 235 games. Seven of those weren’t Tests.

They played Ireland A and Scotland A in 2001, the Barbarians in 2004, 2009 and a few weeks ago, Munster in 2008 and now a French selection in Lyon.

In his remarkable career Richie McCAw played 149 games for the All Blacks. Only one of those wasn’t a Test when he captained them against the Barbarians in 2009 (a rare loss).

In his equally impressive career the late Sir Colin Meads played 133 games for the All Blacks - 78 of those weren’t Tests. It’s a tale of times, of eras, and of the move to professionalism where clubs won’t release players for games and seem reluctant to play games they don’t need to.

It’s a pity, a real shame. The Munster match lives long in my memory, not really for what happened on the field, but for the occasion, for the crowd and for their passion.

The rugby was secondary. This was a celebration of the All Blacks return to a place where they once lost to the All Blacks, in 1978.

It was also a diversion from the regular route of Tests played in London, Edinburgh, Dublin and Wales; just as this match in Lyon took the All Blacks away from their beaten path.

Since 2000 the All Blacks have played 10 Tests against France in France and seven of those were in Paris.

In bygone years they ventured to Nancy, Bayonne, Béziers, Lille, La Rochelle, Nantes, Agen, Brive, Perpignan and more. Players who were not Test regulars played for the All Blacks, gaining experience and adding depth.

It was, I’m sure, pretty good times for their supporters too who got to follow the team around a wonderful country. The same applied to tours to the UK and South Africa.

The game today is different. Players are bigger and strong, the contact and collisions are more brutal and there is no doubt that the athletes need longer to recover.

But it doesn’t mean midweek games should be consigned to history’s dustbin. Quite the reverse.

This trip to Europe has shown it’s possible - you just need a big squad of players. How much as Steven Hansen learnt from watching his fringe All Blacks take on the Barbarians and the French XV?

How valuable has it been for those players to get a feel for what it means to be an All Black and what it takes to live up to the legacy of that jersey out on the field.

They fought hard for the 28-23 win in Lyon with six of their muster making their All Blacks debut while others, who were inexperienced All Blacks, had to assume greater leadership on the field.

All this in front of about 60,000 in Lyon, a city that has hosted the All Blacks only six times before.

They head next to Edinburgh and then Cardiff. Nothing new or novel there. The All Blacks bus could find it’s way to the team hotel without a driver.

There is a smorgasbord of rugby in the professional era, but sometimes it can seem a little repetitive. Midweek games are a breath of fresh air.