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On This Day: All for one at Boet Erasmus

On This Day: All for one at Boet Erasmus

The 1974 Lions came into the third Test against South Africa on the verge of a momentous Test series win.

“We had the ability to confront teams up front and then use it out wide."

The 1974 Lions came into the third Test against South Africa on the verge of a momentous Test series win.

While history would remember those famous tourists as the Invincibles for their unbeaten run against every team they faced on that tour – before the third Test the focus was simply on sealing a series win.

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Not in 78 years had the Lions claimed one against the Boks. There was a determination in the squad not to let this opportunity pass.

The Boks meanwhile were equally motivated to prevent it – they had dropped all but five of their players from the second Test.

PREPARING FOR A BOK BACKLASH 

And as blindside flanker Roger Uttley remembers, there was something in the air that day at Port Elizabeth – way before a ball had been kicked or a punch had been thrown.

“We knew we were onto something special and by that time the Springboks were tearing their hair out a little bit, because they’d tried all sorts of combinations up to that point,” said Uttley.

“They dropped big John Williams, the second-row forward, and brought in a ‘hard man’ from Northern Transvaal – Moaner van Heerden. He was going to sort everybody out! They also had Gerrie Sonnekus at scrum-half, who was actually a No.8.

“The old Boet Erasmus stadium was down in a bubble and you had railway carriages up on one embankment where people were watching from, and there was a big, long ramp where you came down from the changing rooms onto the field.

“We walked down it as the first team out and we were waiting there – it seemed to be quite a long time – before we saw the Springboks, and you just heard the clattering down this concrete ramp, they came down like an avalanche onto the pitch determined to wreak all sorts of havoc. We were under a lot of pressure in that first half, but we gradually asserted ourselves."

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FREE-FLOWING RUGBY

The game is best remembered for its physicality but there was some great rugby played – some of the best of the entire Tour in fact. Having ridden out the storm of the Boks’ initial assault, Gordon Brown bundled over from a lineout and the Lions went in 7-3 ahead at the break.

After the interval they really turned the screw and JJ Williams bagged a double as the Port Elizabeth crowd were treated to a Lions masterclass.

“I would argue that some of the backs play you saw on that tour was as good as any that has been about,” Uttley added. “We had the ability to confront teams up front and then use it out wide. And on that particular day, Gareth Edwards and Benny (Phil Bennett) were tremendous. 

“JJ Williams on the left wing had so much pace, Benny would just dink the ball through and it would stand up behind the approaching back-line – their understanding was brilliant. We scored so many tries that way.

“In that third Test there was a great try when we were playing down the slope with the sun on our backs in the second half, and JJ was just electric.

“Browny (Gordon Brown) broke his hand in the first half but he scored a great try from the front of a line-out in the first half. They just couldn’t find any way past us.”

WINNING THE PHYSICAL BATTLE

But while the free-flowing rugby was one thing – the physical battle cannot be overlooked.

Skipper Willie John McBride’s infamous 99 call meant no Lion was ever left behind – an all for one mentality founded on backing each other come what may.

Uttley only ever appeared as a lock for England, but played in every Test at blindside flanker after presumed first-choice Tom David was injured early in the tour.

“That Lions side was full of great players, many who had been on the ‘71 tour like Mervyn Davies, Gordon Brown, JPR, Gareth Edwards, Ian McLauchlan, so it was just laden with experience and talent,” recalled Uttley, who was 24 at the time. “There was just a feeling as a young player, all I had to do was stop anybody coming down the blindside.

“And as we had such a well-organised pack, South Africa were always under pressure so they never attacked down the short side – which was great for me!”
 

13 JULY 1974
SOUTH AFRICA (3) 9, BRITISH & IRISH LIONS (7) 26 (Boet Erasmus)

 
South Africa: Tonie Roux; Chris Pope, Peter Cronje, Jan Schlebusch, Gert Muller; Jackie Snyman(3P), Gerrie Sonnekus; Niek Bezuidenhout, Piston van Wyk, Hannes Marais (capt); Moaner van Heerden, Johan de Bruyn; Polla Fourie, Jan Ellis, Klippies Kritzinger.
Bench: Kevin de Klerk, Malcolm Swanby, Gavin Cowley, Gert Schutte, Andre Bestbier, Rampie Stander,
Replacements used: de Klerk for van Heerden 67.
 
British & Irish Lions: JPR Williams; Andy Irvine(C/2P), Ian McGeechan, Dick Milliken, John Williams(2T); Phil Bennett(2D), Gareth Edwards; Ian McLauchlan, Bobby Windsor, Fran Cotton; Willie-John McBride (capt), Gordon Brown(T); Roger Uttley, Fergus Slattery, Mervyn Davies.
Bench: Mike Gibson, Billy Steele, John Moloney, Ken Kennedy, Sandy Carmichael, Tony Neary,
Replacements used:
 
Scoring sequence: 4' Snyman (P) 3-0, 15' Irvine (P) 3-3, 35' Brown (T) 3-7, 46' Irvine (P) 3-10, 50' Bennett (D) 3-13, 64' Williams (T) 3-17, Irvine (C) 3-19, 68' Snyman (P) 6-19, 73' Snyman (P) 9-19, 79' Williams (T) 9-23, 80' Bennett (D) 9-26.
 
Referee: Cas de Bruyn (South Africa).
Attendance: 55000.
 

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