Henry: soft fixtures didn’t help Lions cause

ALL BLACKS coach Graham Henry believes soft provincial fixtures have contributed to the Lions’ poor performances in the test series.

The British and Irish side have been thrashed in the first two tests in the three-test series, going down 21-3 in Christchurch two weeks ago and 48-18 in Wellington last Saturday.

The All Blacks are keen to complete a clean sweep in Saturday night’s third test at Auckland’s Eden Park with Henry saying they are “taking the test very seriously“.

Henry coached the Lions to Australia in 2001 when they played Super 12 franchises the Reds, Brumbies, and Waratahs, and Australia A, and suggested yesterday the Lions had been given an easy ride in New Zealand.

“In the amateur days the Aucklands and Canterburys, the New Zealand Maoris, Otago and Wellingtons have been very strong sides. The Lions have been fortunate on this tour they haven’t played any strong provincial teams.

“If they’d played the Crusaders, the Hurricanes, the Highlanders, the Blues and the Chiefs who would knows what the result would have been.”

The Lions, who agreed to the fixtures list about two years ago, have played seven provincial teams with six - Bay of Plenty, Wellington, Taranaki, Southland, Otago and Auckland - first division teams while Manawatu are a second division side.

They have won all of those games but failed to really put any of the first division sides away. The biggest win (outside the 109-6 defeat of Manawatu) was by 22 points - 36-14 - against Taranaki. Bay of Plenty lost by 12 points, Wellington by 17, Otago by 11, Southland 10 and Auckland by only four.

The qualification for some of those games is that the provincial teams were missing All Blacks, New Zealand colts and sevens players, and had very little time together to prepare.

When the Lions have played full strength opposition - the All Blacks and New Zealand Maori - they have lost, by six points to the Maori, and 18 and 30 points in the first two tests.

Henry defended the decision to keep the All Blacks out of the provincial games. “You have to build for a test match and you can’t have half your team away when you’re trying to build for a test match.

“The intensity of the games leading into the test matches is important and perhaps they need to consider that for future Lions tours.”

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