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Mike Gibson

Mike Gibson

Five tours, 12 Tests, 1966-77

Five tours, 12 Tests, 1966-77

(1966: 4 Tests; 1968: 4 Tests; 1971: 4 Tests)

Mike Gibson was always a rugby perfectionist. Luckily for the Lions, he was also good enough to meet his own exacting standards.

The Irish lawyer's all-round talent marked him out as arguably the greatest centre of any era. His ability to sustain his standards of performance across five Lions tours should settle the debate.

Gibson's brilliance lay in the perception and timing of his attacking play, the focus and anticipation of his defence, and the rare dedication and commitment with which he applied himself across a 15-year international career in which he appeared in a world record 81 Tests.

The Cambridge University and North of Ireland player took his first two tours, in 1966 and '68, as learning experiences. In the second of those expeditions, to South Africa, he made history in the opening Test by becoming the first replacement in international rugby, and showed his stamina by playing in 11 of the final 13 matches after Barry John had been invalided out of the tour.

Like many of his Lions colleagues, Gibson enjoyed his finest hour in New Zealand in 1971, when he formed the perfect midfield trio outside John at fly-half and alongside captain John Dawes in the centre.

The New Zealand crowds loved his attacking flair and the All Blacks had no answer to his timing, exemplified in the second Test when his split-second taking of a pass from JPR Williams and giving of a scoring one to Gerald Davies flying up outside destroyed an entire defence in an instant.

Work commitments meant Gibson could only join the 1974 tour as a replacement during its second half, and he displayed a remarkable lack of ego in willingly playing understudy to the new Test pairing of Ian McGeechan and Dick Milliken.

Willie John McBride's record of five tours was equalled in 1977, but back and hamstring problems meant Gibson was unable to compete for a Test place. The All Blacks must have breathed a heavy sigh of relief.

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