Classic Lions matches: No.6 – Telfer’s words catapult Lions to victory

In 1997 the Springboks were on top of the world having won the World Cup on home soil two years earlier, surely the British & Irish Lions would be easy pickings? Wrong. [more]

Classic Lions matches: No.6 – Telfer’s words catapult Lions to victory

In 1997 the Springboks were on top of the world having won the World Cup on home soil two years earlier, surely the British & Irish Lions would be easy pickings? Wrong.

What South Africa didn’t account for was that this was the first Lions tour of the professional age, and the first to South Africa in 17 years, and this was just the beginnings of something special.

Heading to Cape Town for the first Test few expected the Lions to produce a shock, but there were a number of surprises in the Sir Ian McGeechan’s team selection to keep everyone guessing.

One of them was Neil Jenkins at full-back and the Welshman’s metronomic boot kept the Lions in contention as he knocked over five penalties.

And this helped set the stage for Matt Dawson and Alan Tait to scurry over with tries to secure an emphatic 25-16 victory, the former selling the South African defence an outrageous dummy before scampering in at the corner to edge the tourists ahead.

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The result might have been a surprise to the rest of the rugby world, but when you consider that the Lions were sent into battle with the rousing words of Jim Telfer in their ears then it is easy to understand how it happened.

And while the speech has been retold and retold, you can never tire of reading it one last time.

"The easy bit has passed,” Telfer said. “Selection for the Test team is the easy bit. You have an awesome responsibility on these eight individual forward's shoulders, an awesome responsibility.

"This your Everest boys. Very few ever get the chance in rugby terms to get to Everest, the top of Everest. You have the chance.

"Being picked is the easy bit. To win for the Lions in a Test match is the ultimate. But you'll not do it unless you put your bodies on the line. Everyone jack of you for 80 minutes.

"Defeat doesn't worry me: I've had it often and so have you. It's performance that matters. If you put in the performance, you'll get what you deserve, no luck attached to it. If you don't put it in, if you're not honest, they'll second rate us.

"They don't rate us, they don't respect us, they don't respect you, they don't rate you. The only way to be rated is to stick one on them, to get right up in their faces, to turn them back, knock them back, outdo what they can do, out jump them, out scrum them, out ruck them, out drive them, out tackle them until they're sick of it.

"Remember the pledges you made. Remember how you depend on each other. You depend on each other at every phase, teams within teams. Scrums, lineouts, ruck balls, tackles. They are better than you've played against before. They are better individually or they wouldn't be there. So it's an awesome task you have and it will only be done if, as I say, everybody commits themselves now.

"(Pointing to a whiteboard) That was written yesterday about us. Read it silently, take note of it, and then make a pledge. You are privileged. You are the chosen few. Many are considered but few are chosen.

"They don't think much all of us. Nothing. We're here just to make up the numbers. (Reading from the whiteboard) 'Their weak point is the scrum. The Boks must exploit this weakness. The Boks must concentrate on the eight-man shove every scrum. Scrummaging will be the key. Their weakness is the scrum.'

"Nobody's going to do it for you. You have to find your own solace, your own drive, your own ambition, your own inner strength, because the moment's arriving for the greatest game of your lives."

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