Harry McKibbin

Harry McKibbin

One tour, 3 Tests, 1938

One tour, 3 Tests, 1938

Assistant Manager 1962

Belfast student Harry McKibbin set off on the 1938 tour as one of the youngest and most inexperienced members of the Lions squad. He returned home feted as "the storm centre" of the visitors' backline and having received equal billing in the Cape Argus 'In The Limelight' column with former British foreign secretary Anthony Eden and Czech president Dr Edvard Benes.

McKibbin had made just one appearance for Ireland before the tour but had served notice of his talent against Wales that year when he bottled up the great Wilf Wooller and caused havoc in attack.
That same combination of swift offensive play and textbook tackling came to the fore again in South Africa, where he matured almost instantly into the mainstay of the Lions' three-quarter line and was the only back to appear in all three Tests.

Scoring just one try on tour, McKibbin was always more of a creator than a finisher, with the try he manufactured for Bill Clement against Western Province Town and Country from a pin-point cross-kick being rated as among the best ever seen at Newlands. He also emerged as a quality place-kicker and he scored 29 points with his boot.

Most of those came after injuries to front line goalkickers Viv Jenkins and Russell Taylor, and 16 came in the penultimate match, against Combined Universities, when he almost single-handedly rescued a last-minute 19-16 win.

His most important contribution, though, came in the third Test, when he kicked a vital conversion and 40-yard penalty as the Lions - featuring all eight Irishmen among the party - overturned a 3-11 deficit to win 21-16.

McKibbin won only three more caps for Ireland as the Second World War brought international competition to a halt. He joined the Royal Artillery, reached the rank of Major and had a distinguished war record. At the end of the war, he resumed his career as a solicitor and played for Instonians before embarking on the second phase of his rugby career, rising to become one of the most significant and influential administrators of his time. McKibbin was an Irish selector for four years from 1960 and was assistant manager of the Lions team which toured South Africa in 1962. He served as one of Ireland's representatives on the International Rugby Board for 20 years from 1967 - including a spell as chairman - and was selected by the Irish Rugby Writers to be inducted into the Ireland Hall of Fame. He was appointed CBE for his services to rugby in 1975.

He always maintained strong links with Queen's University and served a term as president of the University Rugby Club. His lifelong love of rugby at all ages and levels was revealed by his regular attendance at his old school, the RBAI, up to his death in 2001.

McKibbin's younger brother, Des, won eight caps for Ireland at prop and, like Harry, became president of the IRFU, the only instance of two brothers filling that position. Two of his sons, Alistair and Chris, played for Ireland and a third, Richard, was a trialist.

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