Two-time British & Irish Lions tourist Ray McLoughlin has died at the age of 82.
Considered one of the finest scrum operators to have ever graced the game, the renowned Irish tighthead toured with the Lions in 1966 and 1971 during his illustrious career.
McLoughlin’s first Lions experience saw him play in both winning Tests in Australia and the first Test in New Zealand, as well as 14 provincial fixtures, before injury cut his Tour short.
British & Irish Lion #451 Ray McLoughlin
He was selected again five years later for the 1971 Tour to New Zealand, but injury cost him further Test caps after sustaining a broken thumb in the famous Battle of Canterbury.
The England and Lions hooker and captain John Dawes once said McLoughlin’s presence was sorely missed in the forward pack of the Carwyn James-coached team.
He said: “Ray was the wisehead, the intelligentsia of forward play. He and Carwyn would spend hours together, Carwyn trying to learn from Ray the intricacies of forward play.”
Taking place just a week before the first Test, the Lions defeated Canterbury 14-3 in Dunedin in what has gone down in legend as one of the most brutal games in the tourists’ history.
But while McLoughlin’s absence from the front row after his Tour-ending injury was a blow to the Lions, his scrum knowledge proved crucial in the Test series that followed.
He put his personal disappointment behind him and was credited with playing a vital role in tutoring the forwards who helped the Lions secure a historic series win over the All Blacks.
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In fact, John Taylor – who toured with McLoughlin with the Lions in 1971 – later described the Ireland legend as “one of the best technicians the game has ever known”.
He also scored two tries for the Lions, with the first coming in the 11-8 opening Test win against Australia in 1966 and the second coming against Waikato on the 1971 Tour.
In addition to his substantial contribution to two Lions Tours, McLoughlin also played a then record 40 times for Ireland over a period of 14 seasons (from 1962 to 1975).
He captained his country on eight occasions and was regarded as a visionary ahead of his time after introducing structured training sessions and instilling strict discipline.
Born in 1939, the native of Ahascragh played his early rugby at Ballinasloe RFC and was educated at Garbally College where he actually started off as a No.8.
He showed a sign of what was to come by captaining Ballinasloe’s junior team to Connacht Cup success in 1958 before going on to play for University College Dublin club UCD.
It was at UCD, while studying for a degree in chemical engineering, that he was converted into a prop before enjoying spells at Gosforth and Blackrock College.
From there he went on to represent Connacht 34 times over 16 years, becoming one of the province’s most-capped players of the amateur era and their first Lions tourist.
Away from the rugby field, McLoughlin was also a successful businessman but for most he will always be remembered as one of the best props to ever represent Ireland and the Lions.