To celebrate the start of one of the greatest triumphs in Lions history, we take a look back at the first Test win over the All Blacks in 1971.
Today, June 26, marks the 40th anniversary of the opening victory of a four-match series that will forever be remembered as one of our sport’s most memorable achievements.
The match was the first step on a wonderful journey that saw the class of ’71 achieve what no Lions side had ever achieved before as they recorded their first and only series win to date over the All Blacks.
Led impeccably by Welsh duo Carwyn James and John Dawes, the Lions won the first Test 9-3 in Dunedin as they began their march towards a deserved 2-1 series victory against the world’s most-feared rugby-playing nation.
NEW ZEALAND 3 BRITISH & IRISH LIONS 9
Half-time: 3-3 Venue: Carisbrooke, Dunedin Attendance: 45,000
Scorers: New Zealand: Pen – McCormack; Lions: Try – McClauchlan; Pens – John 2
SETTING THE SCENE
Despite the tour having begun so disappointingly with defeat to Queensland in the first of two fixtures in Australia, by the time the Test series in New Zealand came around the Lions were in fine form.
Britain and Ireland’s elite had followed that 15-11 reverse in Brisbane with 11 straight wins, with their 10 victories in New Zealand all by comfortable margins.
Capital city outfit Wellington had been dispatched by close to 50 points, while Waikato, West Coast/Buller and Marlborough/Nelson Bays had all shipped more than 30 points to a Lions side playing some outstanding running rugby.
The tourists had also shown their togetherness and character in an all-out war with Canterbury just a week before the start of the Test series as they reminded each other that nothing would stand in their way against the All Blacks.
That character was absolutely vital in the first Test as the Lions withstood an early All Blacks onslaught to shock the Kiwi public at Carisbrook.
The Lions named an incredible six Welshmen in their starting backline, with a seventh coming on as a replacement in the first half in Dunedin.
Only Ireland’s Mike Gibson broke a Welsh monopoly that was perhaps unsurprising given the stylish manner in which the Dragons had clinched a Five Nations Grand Slam earlier that season.
Gibson was named in the centres alongside tour captain John Dawes who provided a solidifying presence among some of the greatest players Britain and Ireland have ever produced. The skipper rarely received the plaudits he deserved for his all-round game but his leadership qualities, calming influence and general stewardship of the side were always in evidence throughout his 19 games on tour.
Mike Gibson was the only non-Welshman in the backline
JPR Williams made the first of his eight straight Test appearances for the Lions at full back ahead of Bob Hiller of Harlequins, while fellow countrymen Gerald Davies and John Bevan combined with JPR to create a hugely exciting back three.
Davies had toured South Africa with the Lions three years earlier but his wing partner Bevan was on his first and only Lions adventure before departing for an incredibly successful career in Rugby League. It would prove to be his solitary Lions cap as he was replaced by Coventry’s David Duckham for the following three internationals.
The half-back partnership has to go down as the greatest to have ever played the game, with Barry John and Gareth Edwards linking up to sensational effect throughout the tour. The Cardiff duo mesmerised the New Zealand public with their attacking brand of rugby throughout the three months the Lions were in the country.
The fact that Edwards left the field injured in the initial stages of the first Test made this particular victory even more remarkable, especially when you consider that the All Blacks had themselves selected one of the sport’s best scrum-halves in Sid Going.
The man who replaced Edwards from the bench was Maesteg’s Ray ‘Chico’ Hopkins, a player who always lived in Edwards’ shadow yet stepped up to the mark when the four Home Nations required him to do so.
While it is the back division of the ’71 Lions whose names read like a who’s who of the biggest stars in the global game, the forwards played an equally important role in Dunedin and beyond. And although this particular pack didn’t dominate the opposition like their 1974 successors, it did a more than useful job against a physical and athletic All Black eight.
Injuries to their two first-choice props in the penultimate warm-up game against Canterbury – a truly brutal affair in which the visitors were subjected to a number of disgraceful acts of foul play – left the Lions seemingly in a bad way as far as the front row was concerned. Sandy Carmichael was punched out of the tour in the 14-3 win in Christchurch while Ray McLoughlin was also forced home when he broke his thumb while retaliating.
That left Ian McLauchlan and Sean Lynch as the obvious choices at loosehead and tighthead respectively, with England’s John Pullin named at hooker. The Bristolian farmer saw off competition from Scotland’s Frank Laidlaw for the No2 shirt to complete a front row that would remain unchanged throughout the Test series.
The great Willie John McBride started the eighth of his 17 Tests for the Lions, with Llanelli’s Delme Thomas joining him in the second row five years, three tours and six internationals after the pair had previously packed down alongside each other during the 1966 series in New Zealand.
Gerald Davies, Willie John McBride and Gareth Edwards were all starters
The back row featured two London Welsh regulars in John Taylor and Mervyn Davies, with Peter Dixon of England and Quins, a try scorer in the final international of the series nearly two months later, making up a formidable trio.
As for the All Blacks, the hosts included six new caps in their starting side. Unlike on previous tours, it is fair to say that this particular Kiwi team wasn’t the most settled in terms of selection and hadn’t been for some time, with the latest additions meaning 33 players had featured in the five most recent internationals.
New Zealand: F McCormack; B Hunter, B Williams, K Carrington, W Cottrell; R Burgess, S Going; R Guy, R Norton, B Muller, P Whiting, C Meads (captain), I Kirkpatrick, AR Sutherland, A McNaughton
British & Irish Lions: JPR Williams (London Welsh/Wales); Gerald Davies (London Welsh/Wales), John Dawes (London Welsh/Wales, captain), Mike Gibson (NIFC/Ireland), John Bevan (Cardiff College of Education); Barry John (Cardiff/Wales), Gareth Edwards (Cardiff/Wales); Ian McLauchlan (Jordanhill/Scotland), John Pullin (Bristol/England), Sean Lynch (St Mary’s College/Ireland), Willie John McBride (Ballymena/Ireland), Delme Thomas (Llanelli/Wales), Peter Dixon (Harlequins/England), John Taylor (London Welsh/Wales), Mervyn Davies (London Welsh/Wales)
Replacement: Ray Hopkins for Edwards
Referee: John Pring (Auckland, New Zealand)
Although the All Blacks started brightly at Carisbrook, it was the Lions who struck first through Ian McLauchlan’s only try of the tour.
The Scotland prop so cruelly dubbed Mickey Mouse prior to the Test lived up to his more favourable nickname of Mighty Mouse when he gave the Lions an early 3-0 lead. McLauchlan charged down AR Sutherland’s attempted clearance kick in the New Zealand 22 before pouncing on the loose ball for a crucial score.
The tourists were dealt a huge blow when they lost influential scrum-half Edwards to injury early on but they held the lead until a minute before the half-time whistle when All Black full back Fergie McCormack leveled the scores with a well-taken penalty.
Unlike in the third Test that followed a few weeks later, the Lions were far from dominant for much of this encounter, but they somehow held on to take the spoils as they dispelled the myth that the All Blacks simply couldn’t be beaten in their own backyard.
McCormack twice missed penalty attempts from deep inside Lions territory and John made him pay the ultimate price by striking two kicks of his own to seal a famous win.
The mercurial Welshman slotted successful penalties in the 52nd and 76th minutes to hand the Lions a 9-3 triumph that set the platform for the remainder of a pulsating series. And while it was his angelic sidestep and effortless change of direction for which he was best known, it was John’s military control and overall kicking prowess that were the standout features of the first Test.
The man they called ‘The King’ was the commanding figure throughout, an assessment perhaps best illustrated by the fact that McCormack never played for his country again having suffered so severely at the hands of John’s merciless aerial bombardment.
Barry John was outstanding in guiding the Lions to victory
THE LIONS IN DUNEDIN
The Lions have played a total of 22 games in Dunedin since the first tour some 133 years ago.
Dunedin has featured as a venue on each of the Lions’ 12 visits to New Zealand with the city hosting a Test match on eight of those occasions.
The Lions have experienced some disappointing days in Dunedin with both Otago and the All Blacks enjoying sustained success over the years.
The tourists have lost out to the provincial outfit on five occasions, while the All Blacks have also won five of the nine Test fixtures, with one drawn.
P 22 W 10 L 10 D 2
1888: Otago 3 Lions 8
Otago 3 Lions 4
Otago 0 Lions 0
South Island 3 Lions 5
1904: Otago/Southland 8 Lions 14
1908: Otago 9 Lions 6
New Zealand 32 Lions 5
1930: Otago 9 Lions 33
New Zealand 3 Lions 6
1950: Otago 23 Lions 9
New Zealand 9 Lions 9
1959: Otago 26 Lions 8
New Zealand 18 Lions 17
1966: Otago 17 Lions 9
New Zealand 20 Lions 3
1971: Otago 9 Lions 21
New Zealand 3 Lions 9
1977: Otago 7 Lions 12
New Zealand 19 Lions 7
1983: New Zealand 15 Lions 8
1993: Otago 37 Lions 24
2005: Otago 19 Lions 30