The power of speech

They say that actions speak louder than words but there's no doubting that words have their place on a Lions tour. [more]

The power of speech

They say that actions speak louder than words but there’s no doubting that words have their place on a Lions tour.

While it’s actions that ultimately decide between success and failure, words can still have major impact throughout the journey.

Over the next few months, we’ll be taking a look at some of the most famous speeches in Lions history, some you may remember and some you may not.

We’ll be looking at the impact those words had on the men they were spoken to and how they helped create something extra special.

We start with a man whose Lions history expands across four decades as a player and a coach.

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A non-nonsense back-row forward, Jim Telfer won Test caps for the Lions in both 1966 and 1968 before coaching the tourists in New Zealand in 1983.

But it is his role as assistant coach to Sir Ian McGeechan on the historic 1997 tour of South Africa for which Telfer is best known.

While many view him as the traditional ‘bad cop’ in a good cop, bad cop relationship with his fellow Scotsman, Telfer was far more than just a hard taskmaster.

There’s no doubting he didn’t take any of the proverbial from his players and that he worked them hard to prepare them for battle, but he was also an inspirational motivator.

Telfer knew what made players tick. He knew how to get them mentally as well as physically prepared. He knew how to demonstrate what it means to be a Lion and he knew how to get his passion for the game across to his soldiers.

And while known as a notoriously hard man, Telfer’s oratorical skills featured a blend of softly spoken suggestions as well as uncompromising warnings. It was a potent mix and one which undoubtedly set the tone for a stunning series victory over the Springboks.

Here we take a look at two of his most inspirational offerings from that now iconic tour.


Jim Telfer (right) formed a wonderful partnership with Sir Ian McGeechan

First up is Telfer’s mid-tour speech to his pack of forwards who took everything onboard in complete silence. When the Great Scot spoke, Lions listened.

"There are two kinds of rugby players, boys – there’s honest ones and there’s the rest. The honest player gets up in the morning and looks himself in the f***ing mirror and sets his standard, sets his stall out, and says ‘I’m going to get better and I’m going to get better and I’m going to get better’.

"He doesn’t complain about the food or the beds or the referees or all these sort of things. These are just peripheral things that weak players are always complaining about, the dishonest player.

"If I tell a player he’s too high or he’s not tight enough, he’s too f***ing high or he’s not tight enough, and that’s it. I’m the judge and not the player and we accept that and we do something about it.

"I’ve coached Lions teams before and we’ve complained and we’ve carped about this, that and the next thing and I liken it a bit to the British and Irish going abroad on holiday. The first thing they look for is a f***ing English pub; the second thing they look for is a pint of Guinness; and the third thing they look for a is a fish and chip shop. The only thing they accept is the sun. They don’t take on anything that’s good or decent or different abroad.

"If we do that, we’re sunk. We don’t go back bitching. We don’t go back harping ‘We’ve done it like this at Twickenham, or the Arms Park or Lansdowne Road or Murrayfield’. No, no, no, these days are past. What’s accepted over there is not accepted over here; it’s not accepted by us, me and you.

"So from now on, the page is turned. We’re on a new book, different attitudes. We’re honest with ourselves. And in many respects in forward play, unless we’re f***ing honest, we’ll be second best. We can match them, but only if we get it right here (pointing to his head) and get it right here (pointing to his heart).

"Two weeks. There’s battles all along the way. There’s a battle on Wednesday; there’s a battle on Saturday; there’s a battle next Wednesday; there’s a battle the following Saturday and there’s a battle the following Tuesday until we’re f***king into the big arena, the one we were in on Saturday. By that time the Lions have to make them roar for us, because they’ll be baying for blood. Let’s hope it’s f***ing Springbok blood.

"We’re focused. From now on, the kid gloves are off – it’s bare knuckle f***ing stuff. And only at the end of the day will the man who’s standing on his feet win the f***ing battle."


Telfer knew how to motivate his Lions

If that speech set the tone for what was to follow, Telfer’s finest, or at least most famous, work came on the morning of the opening Test in Cape Town.

Having been written off by outsiders all tour long, the Lions were just hours away from the first of three encounters with the reigning World Champions, a side who were tipped to destroy the Lions with their sheer physicality and brute strength.

When the forwards came together for their pre-match meeting, Telfer told them exactly how it was and exactly how it was going to be.

The Lions went on to win the match 25-16, more than matching the supposedly superior Boks in the setpiece, before clinching the series in Durban a week later. Take a bow Mr Telfer. Actions may have won the battle but your words helped win the war.

"The easy bit has past. Selection for the Test team is the easy bit. You have an awesome responsibility on these eight individual forward’s shoulders, an awesome responsibility.

"This your f***ing Everest boys. Very few ever get the chance in rugby terms to get to Everest, the top of Everest. You have the chance.

"Being picked is the easy bit. To win for the Lions in a Test match is the ultimate. But you’ll not do it unless you put your bodies on the line. Everyone jack of you for 80 minutes.

"Defeat doesn’t worry me: I’ve had it often and so have you. It’s performance that matters. If you put in the performance, you’ll get what you deserve, no luck attached to it. If you don’t put it in, if you’re not honest, they’ll second rate us.

"They don’t rate us, they don’t respect us, they don’t respect you, they don’t rate you. The only way to be rated is to stick one on them, to get right up in their faces, to turn them back, knock them back, outdo what they can do, out jump them, out scrum them, out ruck them, out drive them, out tackle them until they’re f***ing sick of it.

"Remember the pledges you made. Remember how you depend on each other. You depend on each other at every phase, teams within teams. Scrums, lineouts, ruck balls, tackles. They are better than you’ve played against before. They are better individually or they wouldn’t be there. So it’s an awesome task you have and it will only be done if, as I say, everybody commits themselves now.

"(Pointing to a whiteboard) That was written yesterday about us. Read it silently, take note of it, and then make a pledge. You are privileged. You are the chosen few. Many are considered but few are chosen.

"They don’t think f**k all of us. Nothing. We’re here just to make up the f***ing numbers. (Reading from the whiteboard) Their weak point is the scrum. The Boks must exploit this weakness. The Boks must concentrate on the eight-man shove every scrum. Scrummaging will be the key. Their weakness is the scrum.

"Nobody’s going to do it for you. You have to find your own solace, your own drive, your own ambition, your own inner strength, because the moment’s arriving for the greatest game of your f***ing lives."

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