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Peter Wheeler

Two tours, seven Tests

Two tours, seven Tests, 1977-1983

(1977: 3 Tests; 1980: 4 Tests)

The Lions of 1977 and 1980 are regarded as having produced two of the finest forward packs the game has seen. At the heart of both was the outstanding hooker of the era, Peter Wheeler.

The talent that made the Leicester front rower England's third most-capped player by the time he retired in 1984 was identified early by the Lions, who put Wheeler on standby as a replacement for the tour to South Africa in 1974 , before he had made his international debut.

The exceptional resilience of Willie John McBride 's pack that year meant no reinforcements were required up front, but in New Zealand three years later Wheeler led the changing of the forward guard.

The then 28-year-old was selected in 1977 as understudy to Bobby Windsor, but after the Lions lost the first Test he was one of five new faces coach John Dawes and pack leader Terry Cobner introduced to the forward eight.

The decision to dispense with as great a Lion as Windsor was controversial, but Wheeler's technical excellence in the tight and his tireless grafting in ruck and maul saw him take the opportunity he was given.

He played in the final three Tests, the first of which was won and the last lost in only the dying seconds, appeared in half the tour's 26 matches and was rated by All Blacks captain and hooker Tane Norton as the toughest opponent he ever faced.

By 1980, Wheeler was the Lions' senior hooker from the start as Bill Beaumont 's men crushed pack after pack across South Africa.

A tight Test series was won by the Springboks' creative superiority in the backs, but Wheeler again impressed with his skill and commitment, playing 11 games in all and scoring a vital try in the tourists' narrow victory over Orange Free State.

Although Wheeler missed out on selection for the 1983 tour, that expedition still had the final word on his abilities as a Lion.

Not only had he been many judges' pre-tour tip for captain, but as the games unfolded, he was also considered the one player whose presence could have turned the Lions' declining fortunes.

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