The first in a series of articles, in the build up to the 2009 British and Irish Lions tour, I take a look at a compilation of the best Lions team of all time.
Picked on hours of painstaking research, I was sure to make the team a fair representation of all of the home nations—look forward to the ensuing debate!
Fullback: JPR Williams (Wales) Eight tests
While not a noted tactical kicker like Gavin Hastings (1989-1993, 6 tests) ironically it was a long range drop goal that effectively won the Lions the 1971 series against the All Blacks. The sheer attacking genius of John Peter Rhys saw him play an integral role in the all conquering side that toured South Africa in 1974.
Wing: Gerald Davies (Wales) Five tests
Originally a centre, he was moved to the wing in his later years, to devastating effect. He scored three tries against the All Blacks in the victorious 1971 series. Davies will be manager of the Lions for the upcoming Springbok tour.
Centre: Jeremy Guscott (England) Seven tests
Some would argue that Brian O’Driscoll deserves the spot more, but England’s glamour centre has a definitive impact on the Lions stage unlike his Irish counterpart. His influence in 1989 and 1997 essentially turned those series, a genuine Lions match winner.
Centre: Mike Gibson (Ireland) 12 tests
Played top level rugby in an astonishing 15-year career, and played in five Lions tours. His finest hour was in 1971, where playing at No. 12, he caused untold havoc in the midfield, causing the All Black centres of Wayne Cotrell and Howard Joseph numerous headaches.
Wing: Tony O’Reilly (Ireland) 10 tests
One of rugby’s great financial success stories, the try scoring exploits of O’Reilly has often been forgotten. Broke the Lions try scoring record in South Africa in 1954/55 at the age of 19. All up he would score an astonishing 37 tries in two tours and 36 matches.
Fly half: Barry John (Wales) Five tests
Quite simply, his nickname “The King” says it all. Only played in two Lions tours, but in 1971 he scored 30 of the Lions 48 test points and terrorised the All Blacks in a manner no single player had ever done before. A position where Phil Bennett (1974-1977, 8 tests) deserves honorary mention.
Scrum half: Gareth Edwards (Wales) 10 tests
In a generation where the Red Dragons were blessed with playing class, he was arguably the greatest Welsh player of all time. Partnered with the King and was instrumental in a golden age of Lions rugby where they beat the All Blacks and Springboks in 1971 and 1974.
Number eight: Mervyn Davies (Wales) Eight tests
The great “Merv the Swerv” is regarded as the best eighth forward produced by Wales; and one of their greatest ever captains, another in the golden generation of the 1970’s that defeated the All Blacks and Springboks in consecutive tours.
Flanker: Fergus Slattery (Ireland) Four tests
Considered by many to be the fastest flank forward to have ever played, and was part of the illustrious Lions back row that shamed the Springboks in 1974.
Flanker: Richard Hill (England) Five tests
One of the England hard men that set the tone for the Lions in South Africa, and was instrumental in negating the impact of a glorious Wallaby loose forward trio in 2001.
Lock: Martin Johnson (England) Eight tests
The only man to captain the Lions on two separate occasions, and leader of the team that defeated the Springboks in 1997 when they last toured. Said to have been made by his performances on that tour, and would catalyst dominance for both Leicester and England in the coming years.
Lock: Willie John McBride (Ireland) 17 tests
Five times Lions tourist and considered by many to be the greatest lock forward ever produced by the home nations. McBride first toured with Arthur Smiths Lions to South Africa in1962, before being part of the magical side of 1971 that defeated the All Blacks, and then captained the side to success in 1974.
Prop: Ian McLauchlan (Scotland) Eight tests
Mighty mouse only once played in a losing test match and was part of the formidable 1971/1974 front row that stopped the might of the All Black and Springbok packs in their tracks. He was one of the pioneers of front row running play, and a terror in the loose.
Hooker: Peter Wheeler (England) Seven tests
Wheeler narrowly beats Keith Wood (1997-2001, Ireland) as the Lions rake on account of what was widely regarded as the best athleticism ever seen in a rugby hooker; and ousted the outstanding Welsh legend Bobby Windsor as the Lions incumbent.
Prop: Syd Millar (Ireland) Nine tests
Three playing tours from 1959 to 1966 that could be said to have formed the foundations for teaching Millar the formula’s required for Lions success, despite losing most matches in this time. He was part of the success of the seventies, where he would coach the 1974 champions and would then come back to manage a fifth tour in 1980.