Warren Gatland was eight years old when the Lions won their only test series in New Zealand.
He was dumbfounded there was a team better than the All Blacks.
Now the British and Irish coach is trying to mastermind exactly the same result – and command some of the respect for his achievements as a coach that seems lost on many New Zealand rugby fans.
“As an eight-year-old I thought rugby was invented in New Zealand,” Gatland said ahead of the first of the three tests. “I didn’t think the All Blacks could ever be beaten so it did have quite a big impact on me in 1971 when the Lions beat the All Blacks in that series.
“It was the first time that I realised the game was played in other parts of the world.”
It’s that myopic view that Gatland now witnesses from afar. He’s realised New Zealanders still have a biased, antiquated perception of rugby in the north, suggesting earlier in the tour that Kiwis still thought it was played in knee-deep mud.
It’s grated during the past few weeks, too, that the Lions’ efforts to bring four countries together into a team in a short space of time has been under-appreciated by many in New Zealand.
And then there’s the way the Lions have played. If it’s not the Kiwi way, it just doesn’t rate.
Gatland is keen to stress that this tour is not personal. It’s not, he says, about him proving his worth at home.
“I want to do the best that I can for this group of players. To me that’s the most important thing.
“It’s not about trying to get one up on anyone, not worrying about coming home and doing that, it’s about being as successful as we can for this group of players and this brand.”
But the bulk of Gatland’s coaching career has been outside New Zealand, and he knows that means it has been largely dismissed at home.
Premiership titles with Wasps in 2003, 2004 and 2005 weren’t in Super Rugby, so don’t rate.
Taking Ireland up two places to sixth in the world rankings is great, but the All Blacks were and still are number one.
A grand slam Six Nations title in 2008. Ok, but it’s the second division of international rugby – isn’t it? It’s not the Rugby Championship where the mighty Springboks and Wallabies take on the All Blacks.
Such an attitude among Kiwis is easy to understand. After all, with Ireland Gatland never beat any of the southern hemisphere behemoths, losing once to the All Blacks, four times to South Africa and three times to Australia.
He hasn’t fared much better with Wales, losing 10 of 11 tests to the Springboks, eight of nine to the Wallabies and all 10 to New Zealand.
It grates. It irks. It frustrates. Just don’t expect him to admit it.
Besides, he made up some ground with the Lions in Australia in 2013, a series they won, 2-1. At 53, time is running out for Gatland but he knows, or perhaps hopes that, if the Lions can repeat the deeds of the 1971 team, then his stocks will soar at home.
He just might be seen then as a serious contender to replace Steve Hansen as All Blacks coach after the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
For now, Gatland would rate behind Ireland’s Joe Schmidt and former Scotland coach Vern Cotter in the offshore options – and that trio trail domestic contenders like the Chiefs’ Dave Rennie, Hurricanes duo Chris Boyd and John Plumtree, and the emerging talents of the Crusaders’ coach Scott Robertson.
Hansen knows how tough it is to return to New Zealand as coach of another test team and tackle the All Blacks. He did it with Wales in 2003 and they got smashed 55-3 in Hamilton.
But, in a rare moment of solidarity, he echoed Gatland when he said it was not about the coach.
“Well it shouldn’t be, it’s got to be about the team and what you are trying to do as a team, what you’re trying to build.”
Hansen’s Wales team improved a bit against the All Blacks. They lost 53-37 at the World Cup six months later.
Gatland has been steadily building an impressive Lions team that will go into the first test match hardened with good wins against the Crusaders and the Māori All Blacks, topped off by the midweek side beating the Chiefs on Tuesday.
He suggests this is the toughest tour the Lions have ever embarked on. That past tours had games where the opposition was so weak, the Lions “frolicked” to victory.
“We’ve been tested every step of the way and for me this is wanting this group of players to do a great job for the Lions and their future and heritage as well.
“If we can protect this iconic brand and make it strong and healthy, then we can all benefit from it in the future.”
And if they win the series, for Gatland, that future could suddenly be all black.