Classic Lions matches: No.13 – Lions get off to winning start in 1971

The 2013 British & Irish Lions squad might have had a very distinct Welsh feel to it, but this is nothing new - just ask the class of 1971. [more]

Classic Lions matches: No.13 – Lions get off to winning start in 1971

The 2013 British & Irish Lions squad might have had a very distinct Welsh feel to it, but this is nothing new – just ask the class of 1971.

Warren Gatland’s Welsh contingent swelled from 15 at his original announcement for the tour Down Under by one when winger Shane Williams arrived to ease the burden on a squad quickly becoming ravaged by injury.

But four decades ago it was a similar story as a whole host of Welshman led the Lions to their one – and so far only – series victory in New Zealand.

John Dawes was the captain, Carwyn James the coach, while Gareth Edwards, Barry John, Gerald Davies, JPR Williams, John Bevan, Mervyn Davies, Derek Quinnell and John Taylor played important roles out on the field.

But no one from Wales, who had just won the Grand Slam, stood out more than John, who would be dubbed ‘the King’ in New Zealand.

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And it was fitting that it was John who should be influential in the first Test victory after their tour had started off on the wrong foot with a 15-11 loss to Queensland.

What followed though were 11-straight victories and in the very next game John kicked two penalties to add to a Ian McLauchlan try as the Lions ran out 9-3 winners against the All Blacks in the first Test.

This got the ball rolling and the Lions eventually secured a 2-1 series win, drawing the fourth and final Test, and Dawes admits the success against a side that had won 18 of its last 21 Tests before their arrival was not lost on any one of them.

“Doug Smith, our team manager, had said before the tour that we would win the Tests 2-1, with one Test drawn,” Dawes said.

“That was a bit frightening to hear, but we were more embarrassed by Doug’s remarks because the Lions had never won in New Zealand and we were aware of the enormity of the task ahead of us.

“I would say we were confident but not expectant. New Zealand had been the dominant force for so many years, but I wonder if that side we played was fatigued and coming to its end.

“I am still not sure whether they were at the top of their game like they had been towards the end of the 1960s.

“We were also lucky because of the weather, it hardly rained, and enabled us to play the game we wanted to play.

“But we did have a great camaraderie between the players. It was a happy tour and players who stepped in for injured players during the tour didn’t weaken the side.”

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