The British & Irish Lions

Tour to New Zealand 2017

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1974 | South Africa

Lions Team 1974 South AfricaAfter making history in 1971 with a first series victory in New Zealand, the Lions found it was payback time when they returned to the Land of the Long White Cloud six years later.

Led onto the field by the great Phil Bennett, coached by 1971 captain John Dawes and managed by the respected Scot George Burrell, the Lions had the raw material to repeat their predecessors' success. However, a combination of on- and off-field factors condemned them to a 3-1 Test series defeat and a tour that most of its participants were happy to forget.

Their backline resources included the likes of Andy Irvine, Mike Gibson, Ian McGeechan, JJ Williams and Bennett himself, while the pack, for perhaps the first time, was superior to the All Black eight, thanks to the power and skill of, among others, Fran Cotton, Peter Wheeler, Graham Price, Bill Beaumont, Gordon Brown, Terry Cobner and Willie Duggan.

And, despite an extreme focus on forward play and the emergence of a siege mentality in the face of a hostile press and one of the wettest New Zealand winters ever, the Lions lost just one of their 21 provincial games and might have drawn the Test series at the very least.

The tourists made an encouraging start to the first Test, but the double blow of a disputed try by Brad Johnstone and a 60-yard interception score by Grant Batty just before the break left them too much to do into the Wellington wind in the second half. The interval scoreline of 16-12 to New Zealand was unchanged at the final whistle.

The second Test was punctuated by acts of violence but it was the Lions who emerged standing, having squared the series with a 13-9 success thanks to a JJ Williams try and three Bennett penalties.

In the third, New Zealand scored three tries to one inside the first quarter of an hour and, with the Lions missing six of their seven kicks at goal, the hosts went on to a deserved 19-7 win.

The fourth Test saw the tourists so dominant up front that the All Blacks were reduced to resorting to a three-man scrum, but again the visitors lost a match they should have won, conceding the decisive try in a 10-9 defeat deep into injury time.

A stopover in Fiji did little to ease the pain, particularly as the Test there was lost 25-21.

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