The British & Irish Lions

Tour to New Zealand 2017

1971 | Australia & New Zealand

Lions Team 1971 New Zealand & AustraliaIn 1971, the Lions got it right. The team led by John Dawes, managed by Doug Smith and coached by Carwyn James, became the first Lions to win a series in New Zealand in almost three-quarters of a century of trying. They remain the only Lions side to do so.

They actually lost the first of the two warm-up matches they played in Australia but suffered only one further defeat in the entire 26-match tour and won the Test series 2-1, with the final international drawn.

The Lions selectors made a bold decision in appointing James, who had never been asked to coach his native Wales. But the progressive, innovative thinking that had held him back at home proved the key to creating one of the two great Lions sides.
Having won the Grand Slam in 1971, Wales contributed the largest contingent of players, including the likes of Gareth Edwards, Barry John, Gerald Davies, JPR Williams, John Bevan, Mervyn Davies, Delme Thomas, John Taylor and the uncapped Derek Quinnell.

The calibre of recruits from the three other nations was not bad either, including David Duckham, John Pullin and Peter Dixon of England, Ireland's Mike Gibson, Willie John McBride, Ray McLoughlin and Fergus Slattery, and Scots Ian McLauchlan and Gordon Brown.

In 1950 and 1959, the Lions had possessed stellar back divisions but had been overpowered up front. Now they had a backline to compare with any of their predecessors allied to a pack that could match the All Blacks for possession.

For all their talent, one player still stood out. Barry John attained superstar status on the tour with the range of his kicking repertoire and the grace with which he ghosted through the walls of defence ranged against him. His 188 points remains a Lions record for one tour.

The Lions were under the cosh for long periods of the opening Test but prevailed 9-3 thanks to a McLauchlan try and two penalties from John. They lost the second meeting 22-12 but refused to panic, as they knew they had been way below their best.

They proved as much in the third Test, in which they produced an outstanding performance controlled by the regal John, who contributed a try, two conversions and a drop goal to a 13-3 victory, with Gerald Davies scoring the visitors' other try.

Tension peaked in the final Test, in which the Lions needed to avoid defeat to win the series. It wasn't a classic, but the 14-14 draw was all the tourists needed. A Dixon try, two penalties and a conversion from the boot of John, topped by a 45-metre drop goal from JPR proved sufficient for the Lions to make history.
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