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Willie John McBride

Willie John McBride.

Five tours, 17 Tests

Five tours, 17 Tests

(1962: 2 Tests; 1966: 3 Tests; 1968: 4 Tests; 1971: 4 Tests; 1974: 4 Tests)

Captain 1974

Manager 1983

Of all the Lions down the years, one individual stands out. Fittingly, he is also the man who perhaps best personified their famous team spirit: Willie John McBride, five-times tourist and leader of the most successful pride of the lot.

The rough-hewn lock from Ballymena played 17 Lions Tests in all, although he had to endure nine successive defeats before being on a winning side. And when the victories began to come, they did so with a giant McBride hand on the tiller: as pack leader in New Zealand in 1971 and as captain of the side that swept all before it in South Africa in 1974.

McBride had reached his late teens without so much as picking up a rugby ball. By the time he was 21 he was an Ireland international and a full-grown Lion, playing in the third and fourth Tests in South Africa in 1962.

The Ulsterman was not alone in considering the 1966 tour as "the most unhappy period of my rugby life" as the Lions suffered their first 4-0 whitewash in New Zealand . However, the experience of playing in all four Tests against the Springboks two years later went some way towards banishing those memories and gave McBride some faith in the prospect of better times ahead.

In New Zealand in 1971, those good times began to roll as McBride began to assume the leadership role in which he became so successful, taking charge of the pack when his countryman Ray McLoughlin suffered a broken thumb that ended his tour prematurely.

Like the Lions themselves, McBride's finest hour came in South Africa in 1974, where he led the tourists unbeaten through a 22-match programme.

McBride's leadership was inspirational and protective in equal measure; "we take no prisoners" his catchphrase that encapsulated the team spirit bonding the entire squad, as did his infamous "99" call that brought 14 Lions to the rescue of any one who was in trouble.

Wherever the Lions are known, Willie John remains the leader of the pride.

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