For any New Zealanders in their early 40s or older, the names of many of the Lions from the 1971 tour probably still roll off the tongue. 

The side included the likes of Barry John, Gareth Edwards, Mike Gibson, Gerald and Mervyn Davies, JPR Williams and Willie John McBride.  

Certainly on their results they were easily the most successful of the Lions sides to tour this country, with a series win over the All Blacks and just one defeat in 24 matches - the second test at Lancaster Park.  

It is debatable whether they were better than the 1937 Springbok tourists, who also lost just one match.  

It might also be wondered whether the 1971 Lions backline, as many have proclaimed, was the best of all time.  

The Lions set of 1959 may have been just as good and France, Australia and especially New Zealand, too, have fielded superb backlines.  

Some may even say the 1971 Lions were lucky. They struck New Zealand rugby in an uncertain period, with many top players from the previous year's tour of South Africa dropping out.  

The All Blacks were a young and inexperienced side. 

Yet the Lions only won the series two tests to one, with the fourth at Eden Park a draw, enabling Lions manager Doug Smith to achieve a famously accurate prediction.  

And in those tests the Lions were strangely conservative, saving their 15-man, running game for provincial matches. 

But what isn't arguable is the impact made on New Zealand rugby, and the way it developed in subsequent years, by the 1971 Lions.  

The innovations they introduced have had an influence which is still being felt.

Oddly, the lessons provided by the Lions on 1971 may have been of more benefit to New Zealand than to the British Isles.  

Into the 1980s the All Blacks went into a rise which culminated in the 1987 World Cup triumph. 

At much the same time British rugby, particularly Wales, which had been such a major contributor to the 1971 Lions, went into decline for much of the 1980s and 1990s.  

The 1971 Lions innovations included a successful demonstration by Barry John of the advantages of instep goalkicking, backs who had the ability and will to counterattack from anywhere on the field and the need for tight, specialised scrummaging.  

As has been seen by the many fine kickers of recent years, such as Grant Fox, Andrew Mehrtens and Daniel Carter, the legacy left by John lives on.  

And even by the end of the 1971 season some New Zealand sides were starting to show an appreciation of backline counterattacking.  

Wellington in 1971 were annihilated by the Lions 47-9. But by the end of the year, having adapted some of the Lions' methods, they were the country's most attractive provincial side.  

But the most enduring lesson came from the coaching of the clever Welshman Carwyn James, who reminded New Zealanders of the importance of thoughtful preparation, the analysis of opposition and sensitivity and tact in all dealings.  

Truly, the tourists of 1971 were the finest Lions.