The class of ’71 part two

With Sunday having marked the 40th anniversary of the Lions' first-Test win over the All Blacks in 1971, we take a look at the pack of forwards 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 part two

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

Whereas the star-studded backline was an almost entirely Welsh affair with only Mike Gibson breaking the Dragons’ stranglehold, the forward pack was a far more cosmopolitan group.

Wales led the way once more with three members of the starting eight but England and Ireland contributed two players apiece and Scotland also had a Lion to be truly proud of.

And while it was the likes of JPR Williams, Gareth Edwards and Barry John who received most of the plaudits four decades ago, the forwards more than held their own against an All Black pack that had been expected to dominate up front.

This particular group of Lions made a mockery of the claims they would be no match for the world’s most-feared side and the forwards played just as an important role as their more fancied backline colleagues in that historic achievement.

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Sean Lynch

An unexpected starter for the Lions after injury presented him with a golden opportunity, Lynch played the full 80 minutes in all four internationals.

Lynch was second-choice tighthead behind Scotland’s Sandy Carmichael and had been seen by many as an obvious dirt tracker in New Zealand, but when Carmichael was punched out of the tour during a hugely physical encounter against Canterbury a week before the first Test Lynch was the obvious replacement.

A deputy for Lions legend Syd Millar on his first Ireland tour just a year earlier, the St Mary’s College front rower became a rock for the Lions in the same year that he made his international debut in the old Five Nations.

The tour of New Zealand was to be Lynch’s only one in Lions colours, however, with his international career ending in the same year that Britain and Ireland’s elite headed to South Africa on their next adventure.

Lynch has been in the pub trade all his life and was described as a ‘vintner’ or a wine merchant at the time of the ’71 tour.

He currently works mornings at the family owned pub, The Swan Bar, in Dublin's Aungier Street.

John Pullin

Bristol hooker John Pullin was one of only two Englishmen in the Lions side for the first international and one of just three to feature in the four-match Test series.

Pullin saw off competition from Scotland’s Frank Laidlaw for the No2 shirt to join an Irishman and a Scot in a front row that would remain unchanged throughout the Test series.

The then 30-year-old continued his impressive form from his first Lions tour to South Africa three years earlier where he had featured in the second, third and fourth Tests against the Springboks.

Pullin, who captained England to wins over all three southern hemisphere giants, set a then record of 42 caps for his country over a decade of service. He retired five years after the Lions returned from New Zealand but didn’t tour South Africa with The Invincibles in 1974.

Having beaten the All Blacks on their own soil with both the Lions and with England, Pullin enjoyed another memorable moment against the Kiwis when he featured in ‘that try’ for the Barbarians in Cardiff in 1973. He played a remarkable 19 times for the Babaas and later became a committee man for the invitational XV. 

Pullin appeared in his final game for Bristol in April 1978 and then devoted himself to his farming career, a vocation that had also featured prominently during his time as player.

Ian McLauchlan

Like his fellow prop Lynch, McLauchlan was one of the surprise packages of the tour. Seemingly a Test back up to Ireland’s Ray McLoughlin, the Scotsman was promoted to the first XV when his Test rival broke his thumb after retaliating to an act of violence in the win over Canterbury.

But while he may not have been many people’s first-choice prior to McLoughlin’s departure, McLauchlan made an immediate impact on the outcome of the series.

The then 29-year-old loosehead charged down a clearance kick in the early stages of the first Test to give the Lions a crucial lead at Carisbrook. He went on to more than hold his own against a bigger and more experienced All Black front row as he made a mockery of those Kiwis who had pinpointed him as a weak link.

Cruelly dubbed Mickey Mouse by one All Black in reference to his Mighty Mouse nickname, the Jordanhill product came into his own in New Zealand. At only a little taller than 5ft 8in, McLauchlan was dismissed as too small to trouble the mighty Blacks but he soon discredited that analysis by providing a steady platform of possession from which the Lions backs could profit.

McLauchlan was made captain of Scotland in 1973 and went on to star for the Lions once more in 1974, playing in all four Tests in the series win over the Springboks. His Lions career ended with 30 appearances, including one outing as captain against Western Province Universities on his second tour, while his Scotland career continued until 1979, the year he turned 38.

After retirement he was banned by the Scottish Rugby Union for publishing his autobiography in 1980 but he became the union’s president in June 2010.

A PE teacher by profession, he never returned to that role after hanging up his boots. Instead he wrote newspaper columns and formed strong business interests, including setting up a hospitality events and conference management company, Ian McLauchlan Associates, two decades ago. He has also been heavily involved with the Lions Trust.


Ian McLauchlan started all four Tests in New Zealand

Willie John McBride

Arguably the greatest Lion of them all, McBride featured in a remarkable 17 Tests for the Lions, the eighth of which came in the 9-3 win at Carisbrook.

Having featured in all four internationals on the Lions’ previous tour to South Africa in 1968, McBride matched that feat in New Zealand as he cemented his reputation as a truly outstanding tourist. While Delme Thomas and Gordon Brown shared the other second row shirt during the four-match series, McBride’s own position was never in danger.

McBride went on to skipper the Lions on their unbeaten tour of South Africa in 1974, his final Lions adventure as a player. The giant Irishman will forever be remembered for that achievement as his tourists won 21 and drew one of their 22 fixtures.

The ex-Ballymena star’s international career ended in 1975, with McBride finishing with a then record 63 caps for his country and an incredible 68 appearances for the Lions.

But his involvement with Britain and Ireland’s elite didn’t end in the ‘70s. McBride returned to New Zealand as manager of the 1983 tourists, although that particular group of players were unable to match the achievements of McBride’s 1971 colleagues as they lost the series 4-0. He coached Ulster from 1981 to 1982 and managed a World XV during the celebrations to mark the South African Rugby Union’s centenary year in 1989.

Always sought after by press and public alike in the lead up to and during the Lions tours that have followed his retirement, the former bank clerk is a popular after dinner speaker and was present at a number of Lions events ahead of the 2009 series against South Africa. He has also been asked to hand out shirts and to provide motivational speeches on modern Lions tours where his reputation and achievements still have a major impact on today’s professional players.

An MBE since 1971, McBride was included in the first batch of International Rugby Hall of Fame inductees in 1997 and was named Rugby World magazine’s Rugby Personality of the Century in 2004.


Willie John McBride went on to lead 'The Invincibles' in 1974

Delme Thomas

A veteran of two previous Lions tours, Delme Thomas was still only 28 when he featured in New Zealand some five years after his first visit with Britain and Ireland’s elite in 1966.

The Llanelli lock had played in four Lions Tests prior to the win in Dunedin but arrived in New Zealand in arguably the form of his career after playing a pivotal role in Wales’ 1971 Grand Slam. Thomas struggled to match that form in the Test series and went on to lose his place to Scotland’s Brown, although he did play a significant role at Carisbrook and featured in all bar the third Test.

He remained first-choice for Wales until 1973 and played his last game for his country a year later after coming out of international retirement to answer an SOS call.

A year after returning from New Zealand with the Lions in ’71, Thomas tasted success against the All Blacks once more as he captained Llanelli to an historic victory at Stradey Park.

A electrical linesman all his working life, Thomas is a life member of the Carmarthen Athletic Club, where he started his career.

As well as being awarded a British Empire Medal, Thomas became a Member of the Gorsedd in 2000, officially making him a Welsh Bard.

Peter Dixon

Uncapped prior to receiving his Lions call up (although he did make his England debut in a capped fixture against an RFU President’s XV just before the tour), Peter Dixon made his name for with the Britain and Ireland’s elite.

The versatile Harlequins flanker played on the openside for the two games immediately prior to the first Test before starting at blindside in the first rubber. He also wore the No8 shirt on tour.

Dixonstarted the second Test as well before a head injury suffered in that defeat at Christchurch saw him dropped for the third-Test win in Wellington. He returned to the side for the fourth and final Test and made a major contribution in scoring a vital try on the stroke of half time.

A hugely-dynamic figure, Dixon went on to become an England regular, winning 22 caps between ’71 and ’78, although he never toured with the Lions again. He went on to beat the All Blacks on two further occasions, though, with North West Counties in 1972 and with the North of England seven years later.

After retiring as a player, Dixon maintained some involvement with the sport as a coach at Durham University, Blaydon and British Colleges. However, he has since admitted that he now watches very little rugby union, favouring rugby league as a spectator sport.

He still works as a lecturer of anthropology at Durham University.

John Taylor

A back-row player who few could match for determination and enthusiasm, John Taylor made a much bigger impact on his second Lions tour than he had managed on his first.

The London Welsh flanker had been selected for the 1968 tour of South Africa but only featured in five games due to persistent injury. In 1971 Taylor played three times as many matches, including all four Tests against the All Blacks.

Taylor arrived in New Zealand on the back of kicking one of the most-famous conversions in the sport’s history as Wales kept their Grand Slam hopes alive at Murrayfield. Having already scored a try just before the interval, Taylor converted Gerald Davies’ late touchline score to give Wales a 19-18 victory over the Scots.

Taylor continued playing for Wales until 1973 but he is best known for his attitude towards South Africa’s role in rugby’s family amid a racist political system. Having already told the Welsh Rugby Union he would not be available for selection during the Springboks’ British and Irish tour in 1969/70, Taylor continued his stance when he turned down an invitation to return to South Africa with the Lions in 1974.

Those political views meant Taylor never played for another famous invitational team, the Barbarians. He was surprisingly overlooked for the famous victory over the All Blacks in Cardiff in 1973 when the goal was to recreate the victorious Lions side from two years earlier. Even when Mervyn Davies was ruled out with flu, Taylor was still ignored, with Barbarians president Brigadier Glyn-Hughes reportedly stating ‘He’s not playing. The man’s a communist’.

After retiring as a player in 1978, Taylor decided not to continue his previous profession of teaching and instead moved into the media.

Taylor was a regular contributor to the Daily Telegraph before acting as the Mail on Sunday’s Rugby Correspondent. Considered by many to be Wales’ greatest-ever openside, he has also worked prominently as a commentator. He joined Thames Sport and commentated on events such as gymnastics and volleyball at four Olympic Games. He went on to become the lead commentator with ITV Sport from 1990 to 2007, commentating at four World Cups, including England’s global triumph in 2003.

One of six London Welsh players in the 1971 touring party and four in the first Test XV, Taylor is now managing director of the Old Deer Park side.


John Taylor has enjoyed a successful media career

Mervyn Davies

The second London Welsh player to star in the back row for the 1971 Lions, Mervyn Davies was an ever present during the series against the All Blacks and is widely regarded as the Lions’ best-ever No8.

Davies played 14 times in New Zealand and went on to cement his substantial reputation with another outstanding tour of South Africa in 1974. He went on to captain Wales to Grand Slam glory in 1976 and was lined up to lead the 1997 Lions when they returned to New Zealand a year later.

Illness robbed him of that opportunity as his career came to an abrupt and premature end after he collapsed while captaining Swansea against Pontypool in ’76. Davies suffered an intra-cranial haemorrhage (bleeding in the skull) and was hospitalised for months.

A teacher at the Emanuel School, Wandsworth in London when he starred for the ’71 Lions, Davies worked as a regional representative for an industrial clothing company when he moved back to Wales a year later. He worked in the same sector until his retirement but also wrote a column for the Daily Mirror.

Davies recently served as chairman of the Welsh Rugby Internationals group and continues to contribute to the Welsh media.

Inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame in 2001, Davies was voted the best ever Welsh captain nine years ago.

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