The 1971 Lions tour will be forever remembered as one of the greatest success stories ever witnessed in British and Irish sport but it wasn’t all plain sailing early on.
The tour began with two games in Australia prior to arriving in New Zealand and things didn’t exactly go to plan.
A shock defeat to Queensland in the opening match could have derailed the tour before it had really begun as the Lions failed to come to terms with a long-flight and a short-turnaround between travelling and playing.
Finishing second best to a provincial outfit in a nation far, far weaker than the one they would be spending three months touring was hardly what the Lions were looking for.
QUEENSLAND 15 BRITISH & IRISH LIONS 11
Scorers: Queensland: Pens – McLean 2, Miller; Drop goal – Graham 2; Lions: Tries – Spencer; Con – Hiller; Pens – Hiller 2
SETTING THE SCENE
The class of ’71 arrived in Brisbane looking to begin with a bang.
Led by the visionary Llanelli coach Carwyn James and skippered by fellow Welshman John Dawes, this particular pride of Lions was packed with talent, particularly among the backline.
But tour planning wasn’t what it has become and the Lions were hamstrung by the committee’s unsympathetic scheduling.
Kick off in Queensland was just 58 hours after the Lions arrived in Australia, an arrangement that would be laughed out of the water in today’s ultra-professional age.
It left the Lions underprepared and overexposed, not to mention jaded and jetlagged following a lengthy flight halfway across the globe.
James’ first selection as Lions coach was a truly cosmopolitan one, with all four countries represented on almost equal footing.
England, Ireland and Scotland provided four players apiece, while Wales contributed two of their Grand Slam winning side plus the uncapped Derek Quinnell.
At first glance, the starting XV is barely recognisable from the one that would begin the Test series against the All Blacks seven-and-a-half weeks later.
Only tour skipper Dawes, prop forwards Ian McLaughlan and Sean Lynch, lock Willie John McBride and flanker Peter Dixon would make the starting Test team for the 9-3 win in Dunedin, with McLauchlan and Lynch only penciled in after injuries to two front-row rivals.
The line up for the first tour match was missing household names such as Gareth Edwards, Barry John, JPR Williams and Mervyn Davies but it was by no means short on talent.
Bob Hiller of Harlequins scored 216 points across two tours and was a more than useful deputy to JPR at full back, while fellow Englishman David Duckham enjoyed a marvelous tour in what would prove to be his only Lions adventure as he replaced John Bevan in the Test team for the final three rubbers.
John Spencer completed a trio of English backs, with the Yorkshire born and bred centre having captained his country on four occasions before becoming a Lion.
Dawes was selected at inside centre rather than in the outside channel he would occupy in the Test series, with his midfield partner for that tremendous triumph beginning the tour at fly-half. Mike Gibson was on his way to becoming a true Lions legend when he started the 33rd of his 66 games for the Lions. The Irish genius had won a brace of Test caps in South Africa three years earlier and would go on to feature alongside Dawes in all four internationals this time around on what was the third of his five Lions adventures.
Gibson was partnered at halfback by Ray ‘Chico’ Hopkins, understudy to Edwards with Wales and then the Lions. Hopkins only played 20 minutes of international rugby for his country due to Edwards’ remarkable consistency but he did enjoy a Test outing for the Lions after the world’s best No9 was injured during the first half of the opening rubber in New Zealand.
Both Lynch and McLauchlan were considered second-choice props behind Sandy Carmichael and Ray McLoughlin at the start of the tour, although the pair would go on to play all four Tests after Carmichael and McLoughlin became injury victims during the vicious win over Canterbury. Hooker Frank Laidlaw missed out on a Test spot, however, with England’s John Pullin wearing the No2 shirt against the All Blacks.
McBride was joined in the second row by Scotland’s Gordon Brown, a gentle giant who was overlooked for the first two Tests but then played in the third and fourth internationals in Wellington and Auckland respectively. Brown, who died of cancer in 2001, would go on to play alongside McBride in the first three Tests against the Springboks three years later.
The back row featured the tireless Fergus Slattery at openside, youngster Quinnell on the blindside and English hardman Dixon at No8. Slattery was the only member of the trio to leave without a Lions Test cap, although he did win three as part of The Invincibles in 1974.
Quinnell was arguably the surprise selection of the entire tour but the 22-year-old repaid James, who also coached him at Llanelli, with a string of fine performances that led to a starting berth in the third Test against New Zealand. The father of 1997 and 2001 Lion Scott, Quinnell is also the brother-in-law of Barry John.
Dixon was a starter in three of the four Tests later in the tour and scored a vital try in the final rubber as the Lions secured the series with a 14-14 draw. Renowned for his never-say-die attitude and his tireless work ethic, Dixon was selected for the Lions before he had won the first of his 22 England caps.
Queensland: Lloyd Graham; R Miller, Barry Honan (captain), Alex Pope, Jeff McLean; Geoff Richardson, Mick Barry; Bruce Brown, Mick Freney, David Dunworth, Stuart Gregory, Alan Skinner, Rod Kelleher, K Bell, M Flynn
British & Irish Lions: Bob Hiller (Harlequins/England); David Duckham (Coventry/England), John Spencer (Headingley/England), John Dawes (London Welsh/Wales, captain), Alistair Biggar (London Scottish/Scotland); Mike Gibson (NIFC/Ireland), Ray Hopkins (Maesteg/Wales); Ian McLauchlan (Jordanhill/Scotland), Frank Laidlaw (Melrose/Scotland), Sean Lynch (St Mary’s College/Ireland), Willie John McBride (Ballymena/Ireland), Gordon Brown (West of Scotland/Scotland), Derek Quinnell (Llanelli/Wales), Fergus Slattery (UCD/Ireland), Peter Dixon (Harlequins/England)
Referee: Kevin Crowe (Queensland)
The Lions simply didn’t click in their tour opener. The first-choice back division was already being tipped to be among the greatest the Lions had ever produced but this wasn’t the Test team and it wasn’t a performance of international standards.
The game’s solitary try was pretty impressive, with Spencer finishing off a fine team move, but quality was sadly lacking for most of the match.
Passes often found the floor rather than the hand; the decisions taken weren’t done so with clear heads; and the Lions simply didn’t live up to the moniker of Britain and Ireland’s elite.
It was hardly surprising that the Lions weren’t at their cohesive best given the hectic schedule but that didn’t make viewing any easier for the Lions party.
But while the Lions couldn’t hide the poor nature of their performance they were hardly helped by the referee. Their defence wasn’t breached despite having never played together before but the Lions still shipped 15 points courtesy of three penalties and two drop goals.
Local official Kevin Crowe enraged the tourists with his performance as he awarded Queensland 16 penalties in comparison to five for the Lions. Of those 16, nine offered points scoring opportunities, leaving the Lions on the back foot far too often.
Hiller converted Spencer’s try and added a brace of penalties but Queensland had a trio of kickers contributing points in wings Miller and McLean and full back Graham.
WHAT THEY SAID
Terry McLean writing in The Times
"One object of the Lions’ astonishment was Mr Kevin Crowe, the referee, who, practically speaking, has run the gamut. In his time this earnest little man has baffled Springboks and All Blacks. Now he has bewildered Lions.
"The greater causes of astonishment to the Lions were self-inflicted. They could not win the ball at the lineout; their back row wanted in vitality and speed; their play at scrum-half was scruffy; holes in the midfield defence as wide as a church door; and Hiller turned hearts of oak in the crowd more or less into stone by his ponderous movement to the ball.
"Last it was argued, fairly enough, that the team’s rapid journey half around the world had sapped energy and had induced a listlessness not even the words, and towards the end, the example of Dawes, could cure."
Des O’Connor (Queensland coach)
"These Lions are hopeless; they are undoubtedly the worst team ever to be sent to New Zealand."
The Lions in Brisbane
The Lions have played in Brisbane on 25 occasions, with the 1971 clash with Queensland their only defeat.
Of the other 24 matches, seven have been Tests, with the Lions winning each and every one. The 31-0 hammering of the Wallabies in 1966 remains the Lions’ biggest margin of victory against any of the three southern hemisphere giants.
As well as hosting the ‘Battle of Ballymore’ in 1989, the city was home to one of the most famous Lions victories in history – the stunning 29-13 win over the Wallabies in 2001.
Brisbane looks set to host at least one fixture on the Lions’ next visit to Australia in 2013, with a clash with the Reds likely to be followed by one of the three scheduled Tests.
P 25 W 24 L 1
1888: Queensland 6 Lions 13
Queensland Juniors 3 Lions 11
Queensland 0 Lions 7
1899: Queensland 3 Lions 11
Australia 0 Lions 11
1904: Queensland 5 Lions 24
Brisbane 3 Lions 17
Queensland 7 Lions 18
Australia 3 Lions 17
1908: Queensland 3 Anglo-Welsh 20
Queensland 8 Anglo-Welsh 11
Brisbane 3 Anglo-Welsh 26
1930: Queensland 16 Lions 26
Australian XV 14 Lions 29
1950: Australia 6 Lions 19
1959: Queensland 11 Lions 39
Australia 6 Lions 17
1966: Queensland 3 Lions 26
Australia 0 Lions 31
1971: Queensland 15 Lions 11
1989: Queensland 15 Lions 19
Australia 12 Lions 19
Anzac XV 15 Lions 19
2001: Queensland 8 Lions 42
Australia 13 Lions 29