The third Test against New Zealand in 1971 gave the British & Irish Lions a scent of a series victory – but John Dawes admits he had no idea how much their lives would change upon returning.
The Lions had never previously emerged from New Zealand victorious but had got off to the perfect start in the first Test in Dunedin with a 9-3 triumph.
Dawes admits that he felt the aura of the 1960s All Blacks side may have dimmed somewhat, but they provided a timely reminder of their talents in the second Test.
A 22-12 victory at Christchurch’s Lancaster Park put the series back on level terms and attentions turned to Wellington for the penultimate clash.
The manner in which they had taken to the tour – with power, pace, quick feet and even quicker hands – had endeared them to the locals and those traits were nowhere more evident than at Athletic Park.
The Lions produced a superb first-half performance and raced into a 13-0 lead that the All Blacks never truly looked like overturning.
Barry John started the surge with a third-minute drop-goal before his half-back partner Gareth Edwards conjured up two moments of magic to create a brace of early scores.
Gerald Davies went over in the corner for a try that John converted before John himself dotted down for the second.
Again John converted and the Lions were as good as home and dry before the half-time whistle.
The hosts’ only score came courtesy of full-back Laurie Mains ten minutes after the interval but it was the Lions who ensured they would leave New Zealand with at least a share of the series regardless of what ensued in the final rubber.
The fact it ended in a thrilling 14-14 draw meant that Dawes and co. would receive a hero’s welcome on their return.
“We didn’t really appreciate what we had done until we arrived home and saw the reaction here,” admitted Dawes.
“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.”