First, Last & Best: Scott Quinnell

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Scott Quinnell

From his heartbreak on the 1997 Tour to the ecstasy of finally realising his dream in 2001, Scott Quinnell experienced the full spectrum of emotions as a British & Irish Lions tourist.

Born into a rugby family, the cross-code Welshman followed in the footsteps of father Derek, uncle Barry John and godfather Mervyn Davies by donning the famous red jersey.

Expectations were high as a result when he was selected for his first Tour to South Africa in 1997 but a double hernia operation ended his trip prematurely before the famous series win.

That disappointment only spurred him on and after four years of hard graft the Llanelli Scarlets legend earned a second chance to write a new chapter in his family’s Lions legacy.

Player Profile: Scott Quinnell

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And after marking his Lions return with a hat-trick in the opening Tour match against Western Australia, Quinnell went on to play all three Tests as Australia emerged with a 2-1 series win.

Even though his second Tour ended in defeat, the No.8 certainly left his imprint on the Lions with a try in the opening Test to help the tourists claim a memorable 29-13 win in Brisbane.

He also finished his career with 52 caps for Wales before continuing his Lions journey as a pundit, most recently in 2017, to satisfy his appetite for rugby’s greatest touring team.

And in the latest entry in our First, Last & Best series, Lion #666 relives the highs and lows of his two Tours and explains why he played through the pain barrier to represent the tourists.

FIRST: EASTERN PROVINCE XV 11-39 BRITISH & IRISH LIONS, PORT ELIZABETH

“Ian McGeechan took an experienced lot of rugby league players on the ’97 Tour – Dai Young, Scott Gibbs, Alan Tait, John Bentley, Allan Bateman, he took that sort of experience with him.

“It was something very, very special and I got to play in the warm-up games but unfortunately not the Test series as after four or five weeks, the double hernia started playing up.

“It’s one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make in rugby.

“To knock on Ian McGeechan’s door and say to him, ‘I’m not fit enough, the double hernia is playing up again, I won’t make the rest of the Tour’ was one of the hardest conversations.

“I watched from a caravan down in west Wales. That was the heartbreak of the 1997 Tour for me, the fact that I didn’t quite make the Test series and that I had to watch it from home. It just got too bad to play.

“I think after the third game we went to the cinema on the Sunday or the Monday, we went for coffee and I went to jog across the road and the pain was so intense.

“I turned to Allan Bateman and Barry Williams and said, ‘Look boys I’m gone here, I think my Tour is over’ and I told Geech I couldn’t do it anymore and I had to go home.

“We went out for couple of beers that night and the “Fun Bus” Jason Leonard was the last man standing and he consoled me as he knew because he’d been there before.

Scott Quinnell throws a pass

“It’s such hard work to get to a Lions Tour and to go home early, we’d seen Doddie Weir go home the week before and Rob Howley went home, that’s the nature of a Lions Tour.

“The build-up to the Tour went so well and camaraderie was brilliant, we enjoyed the time off the field, we trained really hard on the field, and I remember watching that Test series.

“I remember Gibbsy running over Os du Randt, (Matt) Dawson’s little dummy inside for the try, (Neil) Jenkins kicking his points for fun, Jeremy (Guscott) with the drop goal, I was incredibly proud of the guys.

Horwill: 2001 Lions Sea of Red changed Australian rugby

“You knew how much they’d put into it, you knew the hard work which they’d gone through to get to that point and South Africa were a world class side to win that World Cup in 95.

“The way they came back into the international fold was incredible and I’m just bitterly disappointed not to have been there but I’m so proud of the boys and take pride from being a small part of it.

“You sit down and you reflect on it. I was lucky as a young boy to play rugby out the back and my father Derek, my uncle Barry John, my godfather Merv the Swerve had all put the jersey on.

“You always think about what has gone and how can you enhance that jersey, when you leave that jersey behind hopefully it’s in a better place. I couldn’t quite do that in 1997.”

LAST: 14 JULY 2001 – AUSTRALIA 29-23 BRITISH & IRISH LIONS, SYDNEY

“The first half of the second game I thought we finished off the way we decided to start the first Test, we were in that vein of form, we wanted to be aggressive, we wanted to be in their faces.

“At half-time in the second Test we decided to change the way we were going to play, I’m not sure why we decided to change the way we played, we wanted to play with a bit more width.

“I think if we could have strangled Australia at that time we could have kept the ball tight, kept it close and got over the gain line, but we lost Richard Hill, Rob Howley so things went against us.

“You have to say as well that Australia were a world class side. The way that they played in that second half, the way they took their opportunities was testament to them.

“It was a testament to the World Cup winners they were, and it was an incredible Test series. Yes, it is one that got away but it’s one that gave a huge amount of memories to myself.

“It provided a huge amount of pleasure to the British & Irish Lions and three Test matches that were absolutely brutal, they were physical and no one gave an inch in any of the matches.

“I managed to play two and a half games before my body gave up on me for the third half of rugby and I came off and had my knees operated on so I could play another couple of years.

“The Lions is a special, special place, I’ve been so lucky to go back there as a pundit in ’05 in New Zealand after I retired and the special one in 2013 and be in the Sydney Football Stadium.

Scott Quinnell as a pundit in 2017

“To be there for the third Test when the Lions really stood up and were counted. To be there that day and the second Test in New Zealand in 2017 to beat them in Wellington.

“Then the draw in Auckland where New Zealand had been incredible for years and years, to draw that one and stand there with Will Greenwood – what an achievement that was.

“It will always go down for me as one of the great Test series to stand there and watch Sam Warburton and Kieran Read hold the trophy up and the mix and match of the All Blacks and the Lions players celebrating together was everything that’s great about our game.

Scott Quinnell hugs Taulupe Faletau

“To be even a tiny part of the Lions, the big team, whatever you want to call it, it’s just absolutely wonderful to think that since 1888 they have been touring Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

“My father, my uncle, my godfather, my brother’s godfather all played for them and I was lucky enough to play for them and now I’m a supporter who loves The British & Irish Lions.

“I think the Lions is an incredible rugby team and will keep going for many years to come. If there’s a small, tiny bit of Quinnell left in that jersey then it will do my father and myself justice.”

BEST: 30 JUNE 2001 – AUSTRALIA 13-29 BRITISH & IRISH LIONS, BRISBANE

“When I came back from the ’97 Tour it was the first time I’d really set goals for myself, it was the first time I sat down with my wife Nicola and said I want to play in Australia in four years’ time.

“Getting the nod to play in the 2001 Test series, all of the hurt from four years before, all the sacrifice and all the heartache of the body and the mind sort of paid off.

“When we were in Perth and we played the first game it was just relief to put that jersey on again, having the disappointment of ’97, going out and playing in that first game was a massive relief.

“To score three tries and to win well was incredible. Sitting down and having a cup of tea after that one was probably the best feeling ever and knowing that it had all paid off.

“I think my best Lions moment came from the first Test at the Gabba but it almost is a sequence of bests because it was being in Brisbane on the Friday lunchtime and going for a walk around.

“For the first time I think, while we had a lot of fans following the Tour up until then, knowing you were playing in the first Test and seeing the tens of thousands of fans hit Brisbane.

“You could not see any gold anywhere in the stadium, it was a sea of red and the noise just hit us, it was incredible and to stand there as Australia sung their national anthem and take to that pitch for the first time, I don’t see how we could have ever lost that first Test.

“To get the nod first of all and for Graham Henry to flip that sheet of paper and to have your name there at No.8, Scott Quinnell, was incredibly special and first thing I did was phone my wife.

Dafydd James scores a try

“I told her all the hard work and sacrifice paid off. When I scored that try, Dafydd James had scored a try, Robbo [Jason Robinson] scored a try and [Brian] O’Driscoll scored a try.

“I was lucky enough to score a try in that one as well and maybe not far as all the other boys ran but I remember sitting there with my face down, just nodding.

“A lot of people have asked me about that since and it was just a relief. That was a nod for everybody who helped me along the way, that was four years of hard work.

“That was four years of getting up at six o’clock in the morning to train in the pool before going to the club, going to see the doctor, going to see the physio and not going out for a meal.

“It was a combination of that, all the players I played with, coaches at Llanelli, at Wales, knowing I was sacrificing some of the team time as well to be able to train my body.

“That was a thank you to all of them, there was over 250 people that allowed me to achieve my goal and without them I wouldn’t have had anything.”

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