On This Day: Edwards and John combine in style for 1971 Lions
In 1971 The British & Irish Lions emerged victorious from a Test series against the All Blacks.
“After two Tests we had the measure of them.”
This was a feat that had never been achieved before or since – although Warren Gatland’s heroes of the 2017 Tour came mighty close.
The third Test was the defining match of that 1971 series – tied at one apiece, the Lions produced their best in the Kiwi capital – a clash that David Duckham will never forget.
Heading into the match in Wellington, the Lions were full of confidence despite the fact they had lost the second Test in Christchurch.
That had been only their second loss of the entire tour, after a warm-up loss in Queensland en route to New Zealand. They would not lose another.
With three weeks to prepare for the third Test – with four warm-up games in between – a chance to plan for history was tantalisingly on the minds of all involved.
The Lions had not previously won a Test series in New Zealand, but with the potential for something special on the horizon, victory in the third Test – securing a minimum of a drawn series in the process – was eyed up as a possible do-or-die encounter.
And as wing Duckham reflects, the fallout of the second Test mattered little for one of the most confident sides to ever face the All Blacks.
He explained: “By then after two Tests we had the measure of them, we knew we could get at least parity with our own forward line and could make the difference through the backs.”
HOW IT UNFOLDED
As it turned out, it was the Lions backs who did make the difference, and it’s no surprise with a backline marshalled by the magical Welsh half-back pairing of Gareth Edwards and Barry John.
The latter dropped an early goal to send the Lions into a 3-0 lead before Gerald Davies, starting on the opposite wing to Duckham, snuck over for the opening try, converted from the touchline by John.
The magic was yet to come, however, a moment that was to set them up for one of the finest series victories in Lions history.
Duckham recalls: “We had a line-out on the right, where we would have run the ball left.
“But the idea was to throw the ball to Mervyn Davies our No.8 who’d just pop the ball down to Gareth (Edwards) running round at speed, straight at their half-backs.
“Gareth just ran straight through, steamed round the back of our line-out and had Barry John on his shoulder.
“The first defender, Bob Burgess, was handed off, and there’s a beautiful picture where you see both of Burgess’ feet off the ground there was that much force.
“All that was left was their full-back, Edwards and John had a two-on-one and we were in under the posts.
“The All Blacks didn’t know what hit them, for me that was the turning point of the whole series. For us this was the decider, we won 13-3 and could no longer lose the series and a Lions team had never had that in New Zealand.”
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?
Attentions now turned to Auckland and the fourth and final Test. The drama kept on coming, and JPR Williams was just tuning up the band….
31 JULY 1971
NEW ZEALAND (0) 3, BRITISH & IRISH LIONS (13) 13 (Athletic Park)
New Zealand: Laurie Mains (T); Bruce Hunter, Howard Joseph, Wayne Cottrell, Ken Carrington; Bob Burgess, Sid Going; Jazz Muller, Tane Norton, Richard Guy; Brian Lochore, Colin Meads (capt); Ian Kirkpatrick, Alan McNaughton, Alex Wyllie.
Bench: Mick Duncan,
Replacements used: Duncan for Burgess 65.
British & Irish Lions: JPR Williams; Gerald Davies (T), John Dawes (capt), Mike Gibson, David Duckham; Barry John (T/2C/D), Gareth Edwards; Ian McLauchlan, John Pullin, Sean Lynch; Gordon Brown, Willie-John McBride; Derek Quinnell, John Taylor, Mervyn Davies.
Bench: John Bevan, Ray Hopkins, Frank Laidlaw, Geoff Evans,
Scoring sequence: 4′ John B. (D) 0-3, 10′ Davies T.G.R. (T) 0-6, John B. (C) 0-8, 18′ John B. (T&C) 0-13, 60′ Mains L.W. (T) 3-13.
Referee: John Pring (New Zealand).