Gareth Edwards

Gareth Edwards

Three tours, 10 Tests, 1968-1974

Three tours, 10 Tests, 1968-1974

(1968: 2 Tests; 1971: 4 Tests; 1974: 4 Tests)

Gareth EdwardsAs long as rugby is played, the argument will never be settled over which was the superior of the two classic Lions vintages of 1971 and 1974.

But whether the '71 side had the better backs and the heroes of '74 the finer forwards, one thing is certain - both teams had the best scrum-half of their age in Gareth Edwards, of Cardiff and Wales .

Capped at 19 and his country's youngest captain at 20 years, seven months, Edwards turned 21 on his first Lions tour, to South Africa in 1968. There, he showed the potential of his partnership with Barry John that would burst into full bloom in New Zealand three years later.

In South Africa , though, potential it remained. John was injured in the first Test and Edwards tore a hamstring before the third vital third international.

By 1971, Edwards was well into his record run of 53 Wales caps in a row and played a pivotal role in the Lions' first series victory in New Zealand .

Although forced off the field by a leg injury in the first Test, he returned for the remainder of the series and produced his finest performance in the third international, the highlight of which was the narrow side break with which he opened the All Blacks up to create a try for Gerald Davies.

In 1974, Edwards returned to South Africa at the peak of his powers and enjoying an armchair ride behind a forward pack that dominated the Springbok eight from start to finish. His form on tour led Willie John McBride to describe him as "the best scrum-half I have seen or am ever likely to see".

Edwards' displays combined his instinctive eye for a break with the tactical sense to direct operations from behind the relentless advance of his scrum.

The latter quality saw him pick out the drop goal that broke Springbok resistance in the first Test; the former enabled him to rescue the Lions' unbeaten record by carving out an injury-time try for JJ Williams against Orange Free State .

One image endures more than any other, though: Edwards firing out the most powerful and accurate of reverse passes to give Phil Bennett all the time he needed to drop the goal that put a seal on a record win.

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