It was a different time, different era. Rugby was amateur; craft beer far from in vogue.

Yet 24 years ago, this very situation confronted the All Blacks and Lions. One all after the Lions squared the series in Wellington, Eden Park beckoned.

The Lions always resonated with Laurie Mains. He started at fullback in the last three tests of 1971, to date the only series victory for the tourists on New Zealand soil in 11 attempts.

This time, as coach in 1993, he was intent on righting those wrongs.


Mains' All Blacks clinched the first test 20-18 at Christchurch's Lancaster Park thanks to a controversial maul penalty which Grant Fox knocked over from 42-metres out with three minutes left.

Then, in-front of 39,000 at Athletic Park, the Lions pulled off a 20-7 upset to force a keenly-anticipated finale, and get Kiwis sharpening the knives.

Still digesting the convincing second test defeat, Mains walked from his press conference past a former Lions player turned broadcaster.

"All I heard him say was 'there's no way back for the All Blacks'," Mains recalls. "That was great motivation for us, not that we needed it."

Social media and the age of nameless, faceless commenters had not dawned, but expectations around the All Blacks were exactly the same. Like grandma's impeccable meatloaf recipe, such standards have long been passed through generations, and spread throughout the land.

"It was a massively intense week," Fox, the first five-eighth turned All Blacks selector, said. "We'd scraped home in the first test; were soundly beaten in Wellington and heavily criticised because we played poorly.

"It feels different this week because we played much of the game with 14 men and we got run over at the end which doesn't usually happen to us. But it doesn't change what we feel on the inside.

"The scrutiny towards us from the outside was much more intense in 1993 than what I've seen this time. We were a side under massive pressure. And we were feeling it, no doubt about it."

Despite their mid-week team being thumped 38-10 by national champions Waikato, with one Warren Gatland scoring a try, the Lions came into the decider with a much more upbeat attitude than Fox and his team-mates.

Rory Underwood, England's great left wing, turned on the gas to score down the touchline in Wellington. He went on to play 92 internationals, but this would be his only foray to New Zealand (he still has a scrapbook given to him by one local school). After two long months and 13 games, to a man the Lions were confident of heading home with a coveted series victory.

"We felt buoyed after the second test," Underwood said. "There were huge expectations for the game on the Saturday. We had it all to play for. We knew how much of a good team New Zealand were and we expected a backlash."

English lock Martin Bayfield dominated the lineout in Wellington so the All Blacks' decided to hoist to the heavens rather than boot the ball out.

Fox gave his forward pack a simple message: Give me the ball going forward and you'll get it back the same way.

"Gavin Hastings was good under the high ball but no-one can catch everything if you kick accurately," Fox said. "We needed to bring an intensity which we'd lacked the week before but we got off to a rocky start."

Focus was not a problem. Just as Steve Hansen's men have an edge about them this week, the '93 All Blacks harnessed a resolve partly due to public criticism; mostly due to frustrations with their own performances.

Whatever external demands, they rarely match those within the All Blacks.

Mains knew his men were well prepared; knew they would play well. But no coach is ever sure whether that will be good enough.

The first 30 minutes was a dogfight. Before the All Blacks knew it, they were 10-0 down; a penalty and fortuitous Scott Gibbs try pushing the Lions clear early.

Fox recalls thinking 'this is not meant to be happening'. Underwood 'hey this could be our time'.

In the coaching box, Mains remained claim.

"All Blacks teams do feel great pressure," Mains said. "Most of the time it acts in a very positive way. Sometimes it means they're a bit slower to relax and play their best rugby.
While pressure is good, you don't want too much so it inhibits players using their natural abilities. We could see the team loosening up as the half went on and then really starting to play."

Fox and the All Blacks did not panic. They worked their way through adversity and, by half time, scored 14 unanswered points to take the lead, one they would not let slip. Tries to France Bunce, Sean Fitzpatrick and Scott Preston rendered the Lions powerless.

"It's very rare the All Blacks lose two games in a row," Underwood said. "They are very good at responding. We found that back in '93.

"All I remember is the game swung, and for the next 50 minutes I don't think we were in the game and the score was relatively convincing [30-13] by the end. Everything we tried didn't work. The Blacks really put us away. It was very disappointing to lose the series 2-1.

"Eden Park is a fortress for the All Blacks. The Lions showed last week they can go toe-to-toe but they've got to expect a real effort to turn that around."

Combine the pressure and expectation, and the build-up to a match of this magnitude forces all players to endure a rollercoaster of emotions.

"Your first emotion after monumental occasions is relief," Fox said. "Satisfaction tends to come later. A lot of guys would rather just go straight to Saturday. It's massive pressure and sometimes you don't sleep very well. It's a big, big week and it is emotionally draining. After climbing up the mountain you come down much further afterwards."

Post-match Mains recalls singing in the changing rooms and savouring the night with good friend Earle Kirton.

"The boys for Saturday will be feeling it," Mains said. "They'll know this is their one chance to win the series. I'm expecting a good performance from this All Blacks team."
Same ground, same opponents, same stakes.

Twenty-four years later the scene is again set.