A modest hero

Jerry Guscott's dramatic late drop goal may have stolen the limelight in South Africa in 1997 but centre partner Scott Gibbs rightly received his fair share of plaudits throughout the 13-match tour. [more]

A modest hero

Jerry Guscott’s dramatic late drop goal may have stolen the limelight in South Africa in 1997 but centre partner Scott Gibbs rightly received his fair share of plaudits throughout the 13-match tour.

Photos of Gibbs’ famous dump tackle on Andre Synman and his stunning run straight through giant Springbok prop Os du Rant adorned the newspaper back pages before featuring on numerous rugby calendars and Lions publications, yet the quietly-spoken Welshman prefers to deflect any praise back towards that Lions squad as a whole.

The 1997 tour to South Africa was the second of three Lions adventures for Gibbs but the only one in which he tasted series victory. Rather than laud his own contributions in the Republic, the former Bridgend, Neath, Swansea and Ospreys star believes a large part of that success against the Springboks can be attributed to a unique team spirit and an unbreakable sense of togetherness.

"When that squad was announced in ’97, I think there was an element that this squad was different, this management was different, and all those elements came together to create one playing entity," said Gibbs, who made six Lions appearances on that tour, including all three internationals against the world champion Boks.

"There was never anyone who felt alienated in any way. That’s a true strength of a squad, that inward support from everybody. That was there in abundance in ’97 and that was why it was so successful on the field and off the field. We made a lot of friendships and there was never one clique."

Gibbs may have been a favourite for a Test spot from day one but the then-26-year-old has little doubt that the stunning series win was down to far more than the performance of just the Saturday side. The Lions travelled to South Africa with 35 players, calling up five more during the tour, and Gibbs feels each and every member of the squad contributed to the Test team’s success.

"There was never any question of us against them," added Gibbs when asked about the relationship between the mid-week side and the Test XV.

"It was all 35 preparing to beat the Springboks. I’ve got my lists of Lions laws, and togetherness was on it. Everybody played their part in that and that’s why everyone can share in the delight that we won the series because it wasn’t done by just the team on the day."


Scott Gibbs on the charge against the Springboks 12 years ago

If Gibbs had travelled to South Africa as an established international and one of the more heralded names in the 1997 Lions squad, his experience four years earlier was somewhat different.

At just 22 years of age and only two years after his first-class debut in Welsh club rugby, Gibbs enjoyed a rapid rise to the top to earn selection as a Lions squad member in New Zealand. He then went a step further by ousting England captain Will Carling from the Test team for the second and third internationals against the All Blacks. Not a bad achievement for a man who had been nothing more than an 18-year-old wannabe the previous time the Lions had arrived in Australasia.

"I watched the 1989 Lions religiously. I remember getting up very earlier in the morning to watch the ’89 Lions series and I could see how much that meant to those guys," explained Gibbs.

"In 1990/91, the season after watching the 1989 Lions tour, I was in that mêlée with some of those internationals who had represented them. I’d seen the likes of Ieuan Evans, Mike Hall, John Deveroux, Anthony Clement and Rob Jones and so on, so to be playing with them in the same Welsh team in the following couple of years was a privilege.

"Once I’d played for Wales, the next subject matter was the British & Irish Lions and by 1993 I was firmly fixed that the Lions is what it is all about.

"I’ve got massively fond memories of 1993 even though we didn’t win the Test series.

"It was initially strange to be away for nine weeks in New Zealand. Looking back now, it was probably even stranger as there was no real telecommunications through mobile phones and so forth so it was old school touring.

"I went on that tour as an underdog and ended up playing the second third Tests. That was a great highlight for me because I remember Ian McGeechan was delighted to give me the jersey because I’d earned it. I played hard, trained hard and I deserved to get there.

"That’s one thing I learned from being with the Lions is that you get picked on merit and that was great."


Gibbs was hugely influential on the 1997 tour of South Africa

Having been part of a series loss in Australia in 2001 and then watched helplessly as the All Blacks crushed the tourists 3-0 in 2005, Gibbs hopes that this year’s pride of Lions will ensure a return to winning ways.

Although he won’t be directly involved when the 2009 Lions travel to South Africa this summer, the Lions still mean a great deal to the 38-year-old. Unsurprisingly for a man with 15 Lions appearances and five Test starts for the tourists to his name, a repeat of the heroics of the 1997 tour this time around would leave Gibbs a happy man.

"I think the Lions means more to the rugby fraternity because it brings people together and there’s a common goal.

"It galvanises and brings all the Home Unions together. It’s the best of the best.

"Every Lions tour gathers its own momentum and profile but it always comes back to the last winning tour and that’s what the guys will feel this time. There will be a huge responsibility on their shoulders to eradicate the misery of the previous tour."

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