The series with the British & Irish Lions was drawn last year but as more young players emerge into the All Blacks, it is beginning to feel like New Zealand actually won after all.

The tour can't be credited for solely discovering, nurturing and readying a host of recently selected All Blacks for test football, but it did fast track the development of quite a few.

Having the Lions here last year was great business for New Zealand. The Lions fans brought a truckload of cash and the Lions players brought international quality rugby to an extended group of Kiwis who would otherwise never have had the chance to play at that level.

It was, without a question a win-win and the playing benefits of the tour were felt in June and may continue to be through to the World Cup.


The likes of Jack Goodhue, Richie Mo'unga, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi and especially Jackson Hemopo partially owe their All Blacks call-ups to the way they played against the Lions last year.

Their performances last year didn't clinch their selection, but what they did do was put them more firmly on the radar.

It is one thing to play well in Super Rugby, but another again to stand out against full-blooded international opposition.

Hemopo was the one who did the most against the Lions, playing his way from bit part Highlander to potential All Black on the back of the physicality he showed in dominating so many collisions.

He's been tracked by the All Blacks since that Highlanders victory last year and it as perhaps telling that the coaches were prepared to give him a debut even though he'd only been with the All Blacks for six days.

Would they have taken that risk – and earned the reward of him playing so well – had it not been for what he had delivered against the Lions?

Tahuriorangi was another who particularly caught the eye on that tour, playing supremely well for the Hurricanes – particularly in the second half when the home side generated pace and width to stretch a tired looking Lions team that only just managed to cling on for the draw.

It was a game where he proved he was the closest in style to Aaron Smith and capable of playing that role of whipping the ball away without worrying too much about anything else.


Looking back now, it becomes easier to see that last year's tour was a good six weeks for the longer term development of New Zealand rugby as it could be said that both Rieko Ioane and Jordie Barrett announced their respective arrivals thanks to what they did against the Lions.

Ioane proved his pace is extraordinary when he zipped in for a stunning try against the Lions for the Blues and Barrett shifted to first-five for the Hurricanes and played a direct and bruising role that included some classy offloading.

The ability to give so many Super Rugby players exposure to the Lions allowed confidence to spread across the game here and there is no doubt that the pressure, hype and pace of those games made it easier for the likes of Goodhue, Mo'unga, Ngani Laumape and Hemopo make such good transitions to test football.

Conversely, if the All Blacks have proven to be the long term winners – along with Ireland whose contingent of Lions returned home buoyant and sure about what they can achieve – then England have been the losers.

Many of their players were not given enough rest once they returned and they have struggled for the last 12 months as a result.

They maybe haven't fallen as far or as fast as it appears and it could just be that the likes of Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Maro Itoje, Elliot Daly and Owen Farrell just need an extended off-season to recuperate and find both the mental and physical edge they have been missing.

They have played tired since the Lions tour and at this level of rugby, that can make it impossible for good performances to be delivered.