Honan’s heroes remembered

The 1971 British & Irish Lions are quite rightly lauded as one of the greatest teams of all time, so how good must it feel to be a member of the first side to beat them on their All Black conquering tour. [more]

Lions Australia Tour 2013

The 1971 British & Irish Lions are quite rightly lauded as one of the greatest teams of all time, so how good must it feel to be a member of the first side to beat them on their All Black conquering tour.

For that you’ve only got to ask Barry Honan, who captained the Queensland side to an often too easily dismissed and forgotten 15-11 win over John Dawes history makers in their opening match in Brisbane on 4 June, 1971.

The Lions dropped off in Australia to play Queensland and New South Wales before heading to New Zealand. After losing in Brisbane they left Australia with an immortal quote from former international scrum half Des Connor, who had coached the Queensland team, ringing in their ears: “This is the worst Lions team ever to be sent to New Zealand.”

Correction, Des. One defeat doesn’t make a team of talent a poor side, as Dawes men proved by winning 23 and drawing one of their 26 games on tour. %Their only other defeat after Queensland was in the second Test against the All Blacks, who they also drew with in the final Test to take the series 2-1.

“Out win in 1971 simply gets better and better as every year goes by. We haven’t had a get together since that day, but there will be 12 of us meeting up again the day before and the day of the Loins match against the Reds in Brisbane,” said Honan, who celebrated his 66th birthday this weekend.

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“We knew exactly what the Lions were going to be like and, to be honest, we were scared to death of them. Wales were the top team in the game, probably the champion side in the world, at the time.

“Looking back recently I noticed that something like 10 of the 1971 side got into an all-time Greatest Lions XV. We’d seen them all on TV and they were top class internationals.

“But we weren’t a bad side either. We had 11 players in out starting XV who had either won, or went on to win, Wallaby caps. There weren’t any Super Rugby franchises in those days – Australian rugby basically comprised of New South Wales and Queensland.”

Honan had already won the last of his nine caps before the game and was in the twilight of his career. Nevertheless, he was ready for one last fight for fame and rugby immortality.

“We trained on Tuesday and Thursdays with our club sides and then had three weeks of one session per week with the Queensland coaches. The Lions complained afterwards they had had little preparation time, but they had been together for almost three weeks.

“I had to ask permission from my headmaster to have half a day off school to prepare to play against the British & Irish Lions. The game was on a Wednesday night and we were all back at our jobs the next day.”

Those were the real amateur days, exemplified by what happened to Honan after his side’s great win. Opposing centre and skipper John Dawes presented the Queenslander with the cuddly mascot Lion the visitors had brought with them and told him it was for him to keep personally.

But that was not the interpretation of the Queensland Rugby Union, who hounded him for the next week before he finally handed them the cuddly toy to keep for posterity.

“A week after the game I had a call asking me where the Lion was. I told them what John Dawes had said to me but, in the end, I had to give it back to the Union,” recalled Honan.

“It wasn’t anything like the Lion the current team takes onto the pitch and it had flags of the four countries that make up the Lions sticking out of its head. It then went missing for a long time before someone rediscovered it recently.

“After the game the Lions were reluctant to swap jerseys because they didn’t have many and for many of them it was their first game for the Lions. I eventually did a deal with David Duckham to swap my final jersey from a Wallaby Test for an England shirt.

“I put it in the back of my car after the dinner and then drove to my local rugby club in Brisbane, Brothers. When I came out of the club at the end of the night someone had broken into my car and stolen the English shirt.

“But nobody can take away the memories of that great day. The longer the game wore on the more confident and comfortable we became. It remains the greatest day of my rugby career and the longer it goes before another Australian state side beat the Lions, the better our achievement will be.”

Not that he wants his side’s record to carry on any longer than midnight on Saturday – in the wake of only a third win by Queensland over the Lions in the province’s 130th year anniversary.

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