The class of ’71

With this Sunday marking the 40th anniversary of the Lions' first-Test win over the All Blacks in 1971, we take a look at the 15 players who started the 9-3 win in Christchurch asking what their Lions careers entailed and what path they have taken since that famous triumph. [more]

The class of ’71

With this Sunday marking the 40th anniversary of the Lions’ first-Test win over the All Blacks in 1971, we take a look at the 15 players who started the 9-3 win in Christchurch asking what their Lions careers entailed and what path they have taken since that famous triumph.

In part one we look at a star-studded backline that included an incredible six Welshmen.

Only Ireland’s Mike Gibson broke the Welsh stranglehold in a back division widely regarded as the greatest in Lions’ history.

All brought their own unique skills to the party and all have followed different paths since calling time on their international careers.

JPR Williams

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JPR featured in all four Tests on the historic 1971 tour, repeating the feat on the Lions’ unbeaten South African adventure three years later.

It was his long-range drop goal in the final international against the All Blacks that sealed series victory in New Zealand four decades ago.

The former Bridgend and London Welsh star won a total of 55 caps for Wales, with his stellar international career coming to an end in 1981, 12 years after it had begun.

Following his retirement from international rugby, JPR continued to play the sport well into his fifties, regularly turning out for Bridgend and then Tondu thirds before finally hanging up his boots in 2003.

A passionate singer with the Bridgend Tabernacle Choir, he was awarded an MBE for services to rugby in 1977 and was one of the first inductees into the International Rugby Hall Fame 20 years later.

Outside of rugby, JPR was a renowned orthopaedic surgeon, qualifying as a doctor in 1973 and becoming a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1980. He retired from the National Health Service in 2004.

Gerald Davies

Like his Welsh team-mate JPR, Davies was a starter in all four Tests in New Zealand.

A double try scorer in the second-Test defeat to the All Blacks, Davies crossed the line four times when the Lions beat Hawkes Bay a week later. He went on to score another important try in the third-Test victory in Wellington as the Lions took an unassailable 2-1 series lead.

Davies turned down the chance to tour South Africa with the Lions in 1974 but carried on playing international rugby until 1978, finishing with a total of 46 Welsh caps.

After retirement, the former Loughborough Colleges, Cambridge University, Llanelli, Cardiff and London Welsh centre turned wing moved into journalism, earning an impressive reputation as a rugby writer for The Times newspaper.

He was awarded a CBE in 2002 for his work as chairman of the Wales Youth Agency and he holds Honory Fellowships at the University of Wales Lampeter, the University of Wales Aberystwyth and Cardiff University, as well as being awarded an honorary degree from Loughborough University for services to sport and journalism.

Davies’ relationship with the Lions continues to this day, with the now 66-year-old currently serving as Lions chairman for the 2013 tour to Australia having acted as tour manager when Britain and Ireland’s elite travelled to South Africa in 2009.


Gerald Davies is now chairman of the Lions

John Dawes (captain)

Having led Wales to a Grand Slam just months earlier, Dawes became the first man to guide the Lions to a series success in the Land of the Long White Cloud.

An ever-present in the Test side on his solitary Lions adventure, Dawes retired from international rugby straight after the tour but went on to captain the Barbarians to victory over the All Blacks in their famous clash in Cardiff two years later.

The former Newbridge and London Welsh star stayed heavily involved in the sport by moving into coaching. Dawes coached his country from 1974 to ’79, with Wales suffering just three defeats in Home Internationals in that time. During his hugely successful spell as coach, Wales won Grand Slams in 1976 and ‘78 and four successive Triple Crowns between ’76 and ’79.

Dawes continued his coaching career with a return to New Zealand with the Lions in 1977 but the former skipper was unable to match the achievements of the ’71 tour as his men lost the four-match series 3-1.

Awarded an OBE for services to sport in 1972, Dawes has acted as president of London Welsh and as the Welsh Rugby Union’s coaching organiser between 1980 and 1990.

Mike Gibson

Another ever-present during the 1971 series, Mike Gibson toured an incredible five times with the Lions, starting in 1966 and making his last Lions appearance in 1977.

Gibson is currently third on the list of all-time Test appearances for the Lions having started 11 internationals and come on once as a replacement in his first three tours.

Only the legendary Willie John McBride has played in more Test and non-Test matches for the Lions, with Gibson just two games off the top of the tree with an incredible 66.

Now 68 years of age, Gibson scored 22 tries, five conversions, five drop goals and eight penalties for the Lions and at one stage held the world record for Test caps with his 69 appearances for Ireland and 12 for the Lions giving him a combined total of 81.

Gibson’s Ireland career came to an end against Australia in 1979 at the age of 36 but he continued playing club rugby until the age of 42.

An original inductee into the International Hall of Fame, Gibson is also an MBE.

Outside of rugby, Gibson studied law at university and is a senior partner in a firm of solicitors in Belfast. He still lives in Northern Ireland’s capital city and is now one of Ulster’s top hockey umpires after acting on his daughter’s interest in that sport.


Mike Gibson (centre) forged a successful career as a solicitor

John Bevan

Unlike the other six members of the Lions backline for the first Test, Bevan did not appear in the following three internationals in 1971.

The 9-3 triumph in Christchurch proved to be Bevan’s solitary Test appearance for the Lions, although it wasn’t his last cap for a British representative side.

The former Cardiff wing switched to Rugby League in 1973 for a then huge signing-on fee of £12,000 and went on to enjoy a memorable and prolonged career in the 13-a-side version of the sport.

Nicknamed The Ox, Bevan scored 201 tries in 332 games for Warrington and won six rugby league caps for Great Britain.

His testimonial match took place in 1983 and Bevan then moved into teaching. He has since taught at Ferndale Boys School, Culcheth High School, English Martyrs School and Arnold School in Blackpool.

Bevan also worked as director of coaching at the Welsh Rugby Union, helping lead Wales Under 19s to the final of the Junior World Cup in 1999.

He left that post in 2000 to take up a new teaching role at Welsh public school Monmouth where he still works. Bevan overseas all rugby coaching at the school and is in charge of the first XV.

Barry John

Christened The King by the New Zealand press, Barry John was at the heart of the Lions’ success story in 1971. John literally ran the All Blacks ragged with his incredible skill set on his second Lions adventure.

And while it was his running game and famous sidestep for which he was perhaps best known, it was his kicking game that proved so influential Down Under, especially in the first Test. John bombarded All Blacks full back Fergie McCormick in Chjristchurch, moving him all over the park and ensuring the unlucky No15 never played for the All Blacks again.

As well as returning home with a new nickname, John left New Zealand with the record for the most points scored in a single Lions tour having totaled 191 in 17 games.

John surprisingly called time on his rugby career just a year after the Lions’ historic triumph. The Llanelli and then Cardiff playmaker cited media attention as the main reason for hanging up his boots at the age of just 27.

He was an inaugural inductee into the International Rugby Hall of Fame in 1997 and was also inducted into the Welsh Sports Hall of Fame two years later.

John is currently a columnist for local media in Wales and is a regular figure in the press box at Welsh Tests in Cardiff.


Barry John is now a columnist in the Welsh media

Gareth Edwards

Seen by many as the most complete player the game has ever produced, Gareth Edwards was at the heart of all things good about the class of ‘71. Edwards played 16 times on his second Lions tour with his place in the No9 shirt never in doubt.

The Cardiff scrum-half went on to star for the Lions once more in 1974, again playing in all four Tests against the Springboks.

Edwards turned down the chance to tour New Zealand with the Lions in 1977 in order to spend more time with his family and on his business interests meaning his Lions career ended with a total of 39 appearances, 10 of which were Tests.

Edwards tasted glory against the All Blacks once more in 1973, however, when he scored arguably the greatest try of all time in the Barbarians’ 23-11 triumph in the Welsh capital.

Named BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 1974, Edwards received an MBE a year later and was then made a CBE in 2007.

His international career came to an end in fine style in 1978 as Wales claimed a third successive Triple Crown and another Grand Slam. Edwards won a total of three Grand Slams, five Triple Crowns, five outright Five Nations Championship titles and shared two more in a truly incredible Wales career.

After his retirement, Edwards was a team captain on A Question of Sport from 1978 until 1982 and was another Lion among the first batch of International Rugby Hall of Fame inductees in ‘97.

He immediately moved into co-commentary with the BBC (a role he would hold for nine years) making his debut when Wales took on the All Blacks in the November after his retirement. A native Welsh speaker, Edwards still commentates on rugby on both S4C and the BBC.

Having previously written for the News of the World in the early years after his retirement, Edwards remains a columnist for local media.

He has developed a large number of business interests, including the role of director of a Mercedes dealership and chairman of a subsidiary arm of Welsh Water.

Edwards has also achieved success as an angler. He set a British record when he caught a pike weighing 45lb 6oz, a record he held for two years.

An HSBC ambassador for the 2009 Lions tour to South Africa, Edwards has long been on the Board of Cardiff RFC and the Blues.

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