Lions tour not for faint of heart

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Gavin Hastings and Sean Fitzpatrick with the trophy after the third test between the All Blacks and British Lions at Eden Park. Photo/Photosport

Former British & Irish Lions captain Gavin Hastings has warned his modern-day counterparts of the potential pitfalls of touring New Zealand, reflecting on a 1993 campaign that ended in a 2-1 test series defeat.

"In New Zealand, you had to have the right mentality," the Scottish fullback told bbc.com. "I had it and lots of others had it, but not everybody had it.

"Speak to a guy like Damian Cronin, and he probably has a touch of regret that he didn't perform to the best of his ability and maybe took it as a bit of a jolly.

"It's a tough place to go. You're at Rugby Park in Invercargill and the Southland boys are kicking lumps out of you, but you've got to face up to it.

"I remember a game against North Harbour and those guys are tough hombres, and they're after you and you have to meet them face to face."

Hastings felt his side, coached by fellow Scot Ian McGeechan, was desperately unlucky not to win the opening test in Christchurch. In the opening minutes, All Blacks centre Frank Bunce was awarded a try, even though he didn't appear to force the ball.

With the Lions ahead 18-17 and seconds left on the clock, Australia referee Brian Kinsey then blew a penalty at the breakdown and first-five Grant Fox converted from long-range for the win.

The tourists went on to take the second test 20-7, but after leading 10-0 in the series decider, they were starved of possession and eventually fell 30-13 at Eden Park.

Continued below.

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"Ah, it was a series we should have won," reflected Hastings, who played 61 games for his country and another six for the Lions on his only tour. "We were very unlucky in the first test - there's a lot of regret there.

"The margins between victory and defeat are so small. Those incidents in the first test - people don't remember them."

But that Lions side really fell off the rails with a midweek team that lost to both Hawke's Bay and Waikato in the final weeks of the 13-match tour. By the time they arrived in Hamilton for the penultimate fixture, many of the dirt-trackers had simply given up the ghost.

"It's true that midweek team wasn't strong enough and that one or two of the players went off piste," said Hastings, now 55. "Well, maybe three or four ... perhaps a half dozen ... who knows.

"The game was still amateur. That's just the way it was."

Waikato's hooker that day was current Lions coach Warren Gatland, who warmed the All Blacks reserve bench behind legendary captain Sean Fitzpatrick for four years, without earning a test cap.

"Warren was a guy who looked 20 years older than anyone else," remembers Hastings.

"If there's one New Zealander who can harness the frustration of missing out on an All Blacks test jersey, one New Zealand who will really, really want the Lions to win, it will be Warren Gatland.

"I said it to him and he had a smile on his face."

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