Friday 23 February 2018

Graham Henry: Home matches for British and Irish Lions could be way forward

Phil Blanche

Sir Graham Henry believes the British and Irish Lions should consider playing Test matches at home.

Henry coached the Lions on their 2001 tour of Australia before leading his home country New Zealand for seven years, culminating in World Cup glory in 2011.

And with the Lions having squared the current three-match series with the All Blacks ahead of Saturday's decider in Auckland, Henry feels the idea of playing Tests in the British Isles should be explored.

The Lions have played one-off home matches in the past, with a 1977 game against the Barbarians at Twickenham to mark Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee and a 1986 clash with The Rest at Cardiff Arms Park as part of the International Rugby Board's centenary celebrations.

Cardiff also hosted a warm-up match against Argentina in 2005 before Sir Clive Woodward's Lions squad departed for that summer's tour of New Zealand.

"I wonder about having Lions Tests at home back in the British Isles," Henry told BBC Radio 5 live's Sportsweek programme.

"I wonder if that would be a possibility going forward.

"Ask the players and fans - that's what the game is about. I'm sure they would all be very positive about the Lions brand continuing and maybe expanding in the future.

"You've got to have priorities and, if the Lions is the priority, that's the way it has to be."

The future of the Lions has been widely discussed during the current tour of New Zealand.

The Lions are continuing to push for extra preparation time in the final weeks leading up to future tours amid tensions over the global schedule to follow the 2019 World Cup.

The next three-tour cycle of South Africa, Australia and New Zealand has been agreed in principle with a minimum of eight games, but Lions officials fear that shortening the schedule would make the concept untenable.

"There's talk over here, maybe coming from over there, about the future of Lions tours," Henry said.

"But these Test matches are like World Cup finals and semi-finals as we've seen the two best teams in the world playing against each other.

"It's been really stimulating for the All Blacks. They only get one chance to play against the Lions and it's the pinnacle of their careers.

"It used to be same for the Lions and I assume it's still the pinnacle of their career to get selected for a Lions tour.

"It's great for the game and it's great for the Lions brand.

"I just hope the people who make the decisions make the right ones and keep the Lions brand moving on."

The Lions' 24-21 victory in Wellington on Saturday was their first victory over the All Blacks since 1993.

And Henry believes that the Lions' Kiwi boss Warren Gatland, the current coach of Wales, could take charge of New Zealand in the future.

"Warren's done a great job in getting them all together and he's possibly a future All Blacks coach," Henry said.

"He's one of the most experienced coaches in the world, he's had a long run with Wales and won a couple of Six Nations.

"He's been with the Lions for some time and done exceptionally well.

"The All Blacks are currently the world champions and ranked number one in the world.

"So to beat the All Blacks at home with a side which has had very little rugby together would be an astronomical achievement."

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