The British & Irish Lions

Tour to New Zealand 2017

1968 | South Africa

Lions Team 1968 South AfricaThe 1960s were mainly anything but swinging for the Lions. But, as the decade came to its close, they finally began to regain a little of their rhythm, on and off the pitch. Tom Kiernan's 1968 tourists may have lost the Test series against South Africa 3-0 with one match drawn, but they re-established the Lions spirit that had been sapped by the trials of 1966 and took the first small steps towards the successes of the 1970s.

The squad that assembled in Eastbourne contained such attacking talents as Gareth Edwards, Barry John, Mike Gibson and Gerald Davies, but arrived in South Africa facing the question of whether that quartet could still shine on the meagre possession to which their pack was expected to be rationed by the powerful Springbok eight.

Sadly, the Lions never found out. The party was ravaged by injury from start to finish and Edwards, John, Gibson and Davies never appeared in a Test team together, with John's tour being ended by a broken collarbone suffered early in the opening international. Gibson became the Lions, and international rugby's, first replacement in that game when he came onto the field to win what was to be the first of his 12 Test appearances for the Lions on five tours.

Although those losses drastically reduced their creative options behind the scrum, the squad still produced one of the Lions' best provincial records in South Africa. However, when it really mattered, in the Tests, they were always second best, stretched to breaking point by a Springbok pack containing such greats as Jan Ellis, Tommy Bedford and Piet Greyling in the back row and Frik du Preez at lock.

Although the Lions drew the second Test 6-6 and lost the first and third both by a mere five points, their hosts always had the upper hand, scoring eight tries to one over the four matches, winning the first international 25-20, the third 11-6 and the fourth 19-6. Only Kiernan's boot kept the Lions within touching distance as the Irish full-back thumped over a record 35 points in the Tests to account for all but three of his team's total. After the tribulations of 1966, though, at least some measure of pride had been restored.

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