As far back as 1950, Welsh centre Bleddyn Williams was a doubt for the highly-anticipated tour of New Zealand and Australia having missed every one of his countryâ00s international matches earlier that year.
The Cardiff great was one of the most-respected players in the four Home Unions at that time and the selectors were keen for him to play his part in the first Lions tour of Australasia in 20 years.
The fact that Williams had had next to no game time made little difference. The then 27-year-old proved his fitness over just 80 minutes and was therefore deemed ready to the face the full might of the worldâ00s finest.
â00I didnâ00t know I was going to go because I was injured,â0 said Williams, who went on to play in five of the six Tests against the All Blacks and Wallabies and scored 13 tries in 20 tour matches.
â00I never played in a game in 1950 â00 I missed all four internationals â00 so it was a great surprise.
â00It was the first tour since the War and a great honour to be selected in the first place. They hadnâ00t had a Lions side in New Zealand since 1930 so there was a lot of interest.
â00I had to prove my fitness before I went, though. I had to play for Cardiff against Bath on the day that Wales were playing at the Arms Park against France.
â00I was only out of plaster the week before I played the game. Can you imagine what my muscles were like?!â0
Williams got through the game against Bath, scoring a late try to seal his place as a Lion. He insists he did little else, however, and that he owes his place on board ship to fellow Welshman and future Lions team-mate Cliff Morgan.
Unlike todayâ00s Lions, the class of 1950 travelled not by air but by sea, another reason why Williams explains he was able to play a full part in the tour despite struggling for fitness prior to departure.
â00I just went through the motions against Bath but, thanks to Cliff Morgan, I scored a try in the last few minutes of the game. I think the media were fooled by that because they thought â00Williams is fitâ00.
â00There were five weeks aboard ship, though, so I did a lot of exercise and I was alright for the tour. There was lots of training on board - we were exercising and we even had scrummaging on ship. We didnâ00t lose any balls overboard, though, as our passes were accurate!â0
Bleddyn Williams (right) with fellow Lions centre Jack Matthews
The 1950 Lions may have fallen to a 3-0 series defeat to the All Blacks but they left with a reputation as one of the greatest sides ever to have visited New Zealand. A 9-9 draw in the first international was followed by three narrow loses but it was their entertaining style that brought them endless plaudits from local fans.
Williams was at the heart of that attacking prowess, whether slicing through defences with a genuine sidestep or creating the space for others to exploit. His reading of the game was exemplary and he was rightly regarded as one of the most complete players of his era.
His performances on tour not only enhanced his already sterling reputation but, more importantly, also ensured that the romance of the Lions was revived in all its glory after a war-enforced absence from Australasia of two decades.
â00When I was over in New Zealand four years ago, I was told that the 1950 side would have given the 1971 team a good run for their money,â0 added Williams.
â00We werenâ00t quite strong enough up front but we had a great back division and we played some lovely rugby. The idea was to entertain. It was instilled in us that we must play entertaining rugby and we were very successful at that.
â00Iâ00ve still got vivid memories, even after all these years. It was a marvellous tour and a great side to play with. It had to be, though, as there were 14 Welshmen on tour!
â00We didnâ00t have any coaches. Karl Mullen was the captain from Ireland. He looked after the forwards and (centre partner) Jack Matthews and I looked after the backs.
â00We played the game off the cuff, it was as simple as that. We never had calls but most of the back division were Welsh!â0