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Mervyn Davies

Two tours, 8 Tests, 1971-74

Two tours, 8 Tests, 1971-74

(1971: 4 Tests; 1974: 4 Tests)

In his two tours as a Lion, Mervyn Davies revealed himself as the outstanding No.8 of his - and arguably any - generation. Tragically, he never got the chance to prove himself as a Lions captain of similar standing.

Having played a key role in the series victories of 1971 and '74 , 'Merve the Swerve' had assumed the captaincy of Wales the following season and was lined up by coach John Dawes to lead the 1977 Lions .

Taking Wales to the Grand Slam in 1976 had put Davies in pole position for the job, but he never got to take up the post after suffering a brain haemorrhage while playing for Swansea in that year's Welsh Cup semi-final. Prompt medical attention at the pitchside saved his life, but his playing career was over at 29.

Despite the circumstances of its end, what a career it was. The tall Welshman retired as the game's most-capped No.8, having played 38 times for his country, and had starred in the toughest proving grounds of all in New Zealand and South Africa.

Davies made 13 appearances on the 1971 tour to New Zealand, including all four Tests against the All Blacks, and made a crucial contribution to the winning of the series.

His height, reach and basketball player's athleticism enabled him to dominate the hosts completely at the tail of the lineout - even the great Colin Meads had to concede second best - while his mobility and tactical awareness made him a vital playmaker coming off the back of the scrum.

By 1974, those talents had ripened even more fully, while the understanding he had developed with scrum-half Gareth Edwards created an unbreakable axis within the 'middle five' that did much to destroy the Spingboks' belief in their own invincibility.

Davies scored important tries in tight matches against Orange Free State and Northern Transvaal, and pulled the strings in the Tests alongside Roger Uttley and Fergus Slattery .

The former London Welsh star was at his best in the mud of the first Test, in Cape Town, hammering the Springboks' star flanker Jan Ellis with an inspirational tackle and making a typical charge to set up the ruck from which Edwards dropped the goal that killed off the home team's challenge.

With Wales, Davies went on to reach even greater heights over the next two seasons. Sadly, the Lions would not be able to call on the gentle giant's brilliance ever again.

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