Lions Legend: Jim Telfer

Younger Lions supporters will remember Jim Telfer for his influential role as forwards coach on the 1997 Lions tour to South Africa, but the older generation will look back just as fondly on his contributions as a player in both 1966 and 1968. [more]

Lions Legend: Jim Telfer

Younger Lions supporters will remember Jim Telfer for his influential role as forwards coach on the 1997 Lions tour to South Africa, but the older generation will look back just as fondly on his contributions as a player in both 1966 and 1968.

Whether leading by example on the field or bellowing instructions off it, Telfer epitomised the true Lions spirit. His commitment to the cause and his undoubted pride in his performance ensure the Scotsman stands out among even the very best Britain and Ireland has had to offer.

Telfer first wore Lions colours when the tourists travelled to Australasia 45 years ago. Then 26, Telfer was named in the touring party two years after making his international debut in a season in which the Melrose flanker cum No8 had been hugely influential in helping Scotland record their first Calcutta Cup victory in 14 years.

After showing a great deal of promise in the lead up to his first Lions tour, Telfer didn't disappoint once the Lions landed in Australia and New Zealand. His consistency and reliability saw him make more tour appearances than any other player, with five Test caps taking his tour total to 22.

Telfer missed only one of the six internationals as the Lions won both Tests against the Wallabies before falling to a series defeat to the All Blacks.

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Having acted as pack leader for Scotland during his early Test career, Telfer wore the captain's armband for the Lions in their notorious win over Canterbury in Christchurch. After leading by example on the field with his bravery and never-say-die attitude, Telfer used his speech at the traditional post-match reception to publicly question the nature of the tactics employed by Canterbury and numerous other sides during the New Zealand leg of the tour.

When the Lions toured South Africa two years later, Telfer's leadership qualities were once again put to good use. As well as skippering the side in four of the provincial matches, Telfer was named pack leader in each of the last three Tests against the Springboks.

Telfer's selection for the 1968 tour had been very much in doubt after injury had interrupted his Scotland career until the Six Nations encounter with England in March of that year. Only a typically productive performance against the Auld Enemy secured his place in the party but, once on tour, Telfer quickly became an influential squad member once more.

After suffering a knee injury against Western Province that ruled him out of contention for the first Test, Telfer recovered sufficiently to start the remaining three internationals as he made a further 11 appearances in a Lions jersey.

Retirement from the playing side of the game came a year before the Lions' historic series victory over the All Blacks in 1971 but Telfer would be back on Lions duty as head coach when the Lions returned to New Zealand in 1983.

Just as his two tours as a player had ended in defeat, so did his first as a coach. Telfer's side were overwhelmed by an All Black outfit showing the potential that would win them the inaugural World Cup four years later but the charismatic Scotsman soon bounced back when he led his country to an honourable draw with the Kiwis that autumn before guiding them to their first Grand Slam in nearly 60 years.

Jim Telfer was part of the Lions' success in South Africa in 1997

Having experienced comprehensive series defeats in each of his first three Lions tours, Telfer showed that he still harboured grand ambitions when he accepted the position of assistant coach to Sir Ian McGeechan on the first Lions tour of the professional era.

Written off by the majority of critics and a large section of the media, Telfer led the underdog Lions to a stunning victory over the then world champions in their own backyard in 1997.

A hard task master throughout the tour, Telfer's enthusiasm brought the best out of his players as he and McGeechan created a unique atmosphere within the Lions camp. If McGeechan was more comfortable with the proverbial carrot, then Telfer favoured the stick, but the combination worked perfectly as the squad gave their all for a coaching staff they respected and admired.

Telfer's ability to maximise the potential of the players available to him and to nurture a set of forwards capable of facing the challenge laid down by a formidable South African pack provided possibly his finest hour as a Lion. Victories in the opening two rubbers of the three-Test series gave the Lions their first series win over the Boks since 1896. Perhaps more importantly, Telfer, McGeechan and the 1997 squad had shown that, whatever the odds, the special bond that four countries can create on tour mean the Lions should never be written off.

Jim Telfer's factfile

Date of birth: March 17, 1940
Club: Melrose
International caps: Scotland 25

Telfer's Lions lowdown

Lions debut: Versus Western Australia, May 7, 1966
Lions Tests: 8 (Both Tests in Aus and 1st, 2nd and 4th Tests in NZ in 1966 and 2nd, 3rd and 4th Tests in SA in 1968)
Lions non-Test appearances: 25
Total Lions appearances: 33 (22 in 1966 and 11 in 1968)
Lions points: 25* (5 tries) *under the current scoring system
Final Lions appearance: Versus South Africa, Johannesburg, July 27, 1968

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