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Classic Match: Lions secure 1971 series victory over New Zealand

Classic Match: Lions secure 1971 series victory over New Zealand

In sport, history can hang on the swing of a boot and in 1971, The British & Irish Lions had the unlikeliest of goal-kicking heroes in JPR Williams to thank for securing the draw that brought them an unprecedented Test series win against the All Blacks.

"He just took New Zealand by the scruff of the neck – and it was the New Zealanders who gave him the title King John.”

In sport, history can hang on the swing of a boot and in 1971, The British & Irish Lions had the unlikeliest of goal-kicking heroes in JPR Williams to thank for securing the draw that brought them an unprecedented Test series win against the All Blacks.

The 33-strong party, including 13 from the Welsh side that won a Five Nations Grand Slam that year, will go down among the greats after a 2-1 series win in the Land of the Long White cloud.

Welsh centre John Dawes was appointed captain by head coach Carwyn James in a squad that contained legends in the making Williams, Willie-John McBride, Gareth Edwards, Barry John and Mervyn Davies.

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Both Dawes and James believed in the unpredictability of the counter-attack as a powerful weapon in the wake of the 1968 law change that prevented direct kicking into touch when outside the 25-yard line.

In JPR, James had the perfect player to complement the midfield pairing of Dawes and Mike Gibson.

‘King John’:

Fly-half Barry John broke records – scoring 188 points on tour, kicking masterfully in all four Tests.

Reflecting on the Tour he said: “When I walked into the dressing room, the players would stand up and bow. It was their way of making sure I never got too big for my boots.”

Captain Dawes said: “People forget that Barry played 17 games on that Tour, he wasn’t held back. He just took New Zealand by the scruff of the neck – and it was the New Zealanders who gave him the title King John.”

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After defeat to Queensland in their first Tour match, confidence among Lions fans was not high but Dawes’ men enjoyed 11 successive victories as they built towards the first Test match against the All Blacks.

The Test series:

A John masterclass inspired the Lions in the first Test, with ‘Mighty Mouse’ Ian McLauchlan, scoring the game’s only try in a 9-3 win.

A fortnight later, the New Zealand pack dominated proceedings and led 22-6 at half-time. The Lions rallied in the second half with Gerald Davies’ try and a John drop goal but could not overturn the deficit, eventually losing 22-12.

John was the hero again with 10 of the tourists’ 13 points in the third Test win, meaning they needed just a draw in the final Test.

The Decider:

The Lions went 8-0 down early on in front of a 56,000-strong crowd at Eden Park.

Loose forward Peter Dixon scored the visitors’ opening try as the Lions got themselves back on terms at 11-11, JPR then landed the only successful drop goal of his career from more than 40 metres in what became the defining moment of the tour.

His long-range drop goal characterised the audacity of the tourists and gave them a slender 14-11 advantage before All Black Laurie Mains leveled the scores late on.

Williams, not a regular kicker, admitted he had been preparing should he be required to drop a goal in the Tests.

He said: “I had been practising with Bob Hiller and Barry John and when the drop goal came we were going backwards at the time.

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“David Duckham passed the ball to Barry, he gave it to me and I just hit it. As soon as I hit it I knew it was going over.”

The victorious squad returned to Heathrow to thousands of adoring fans as history makers and the architects of a monumental step forward for home nations rugby.

John said: “The triumph in the Test series was not only historic, but it also made rugby union more appealing to the general public.”

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