There are not many players in the history of The British & Irish Lions who have grasped their opportunity to impress quite like two-time tourist Sandy Hinshelwood.
Selected for Tours to Australia and New Zealand in 1966 and South Africa in 1968, the Scotland winger scored a remarkable 18 tries in 28 appearances in the famous red jersey.
His prolific record included one try in his two Test appearances against the All Blacks despite often finding himself behind Dewi Bebb and Stuart Watkins in the pecking order.
And although he never played in a winning Test side, Hinshelwood looks back fondly on his Lions career and the influence those trips had on the success that was to come.
“I think there’s no question you felt that you were representing something greater than your individual country,” said Hinshelwood, who also won 21 caps for Scotland.
“Representing your country is one of the greatest honours you can have but we were combining with the best that were available to Tour from all four home countries, it’s just fabulous.”
Hinshelwood, who played his club rugby for London Scottish, made his international debut at the start of 1966 before receiving the letter asking him to Tour with the Lions for the first time.
“Of course, you get that letter saying, “Would you be available for the Lions?” What do you say? I was delighted, obviously,” recalled Hinshelwood, who has since emigrated to Australia.
He hit the ground running on the Australia leg of the Tour, scoring a hat-trick against Western Australia as well as further tries against Victoria and Queensland Reds.
British & Irish Lions Profile: #437 Sandy Hinshelwood
But his superb form was not enough to earn him a place against the Wallabies in the two Test matches, which ended in 11-8 and 31-0 victories for the tourists.
“I mean that was a huge trip, that one, because it was Australia and New Zealand. We did well in initial matches against the lesser state sides, and the first Test was quite close.
“Australia really fancied themselves at that stage and the win in the second Test was at that time a record score against the Wallabies, and I think that stood for a long time.
“And then we went to New Zealand. When we arrived in Christchurch from Australia, the crowds at the airport, it was like The Beatles arrived. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
While the Lions left Australia undefeated, they were brought down to earth with a bump in New Zealand as the All Blacks showed their might with a 20-3 win in the first Test.
Having missed out on that game, Hinshelwood was brought in for the second Test and helped the Lions push New Zealand much closer before eventually losing 16-12 in Wellington.
Another defeat in the third Test – this time 19-6 – meant the series was won by the All Blacks with a game to spare, although Hinshelwood left his mark with a try in the finale in Auckland.
“You know, we were up against a very good All Blacks side. They were always good and when they were off, they were only slightly off,” Hinshelwood reflected.
The 1888 Club project
“I think that ’66 side was arguably one of the best. Colin Meads – the Meads brothers were in the second row. Brian Lochore in the back row, Kel Tremain and Waka Nathan.
“It was a fabulous side and we got done over in the early matches in the forwards by some tough, tough provincial sides and then it just got worse in the Tests. It was really tough going.
“In the fourth Test, there was nothing to play for. The series was over, we were 3-0 down. But we played well and I managed to score a try in that. They just overwhelmed us.
“The overall results of the Tour in New Zealand just overwhelmed the huge success that we had in Australia, that was forgotten. Probably no one knows that we were undefeated in Australia.”
Hinshelwood finished as the second top try scorer on the 1966 Tour, with only Bebb crossing the whitewash more often, so it was no surprise when he was selected again two years later.
He was part of a star-studded team in South Africa that included Lions legends such as Gerald Davies, Gareth Edwards, Mike Gibson, Willie John McBride and Jim Telfer.
And just as he did in New Zealand, Hinshelwood started the Tour in impressive fashion with five tries in four games including a brace in his first match against South Western Districts.
His Test action was ultimately limited, making one appearance against the Springboks in the drawn second Test, but Hinshelwood finished the Tour joint top try scorer with Edwards.
And he believes the ’68 Tour paved the way for the success the Lions enjoyed in 1971 and 1974 when the tourists secured historic series victories in New Zealand and South Africa.
“It was interesting that there was another Tour two years later. That was very fortunate timing for me in my five-year international career – that there were two Lions Tours two years apart,” he said.
“I think they went out of the way to address some of the issues that we had experienced in ’66 and I’ve heard it said that the ’68 Tour, though it was not successful, did set some ground rules and bases for the success that then followed.
“Off we went again for another three and a half months or whatever it was in South Africa. That wasn’t easy either. That ’68 Tour, we lost three Tests and drew one.
“What is interesting about the ’68 side is that we had a 25th anniversary reunion back in the UK and then we had one every five years thereafter.
“Three years ago, we had the 50th which was held in Cape Town. But that was all down to one player, Tony Horton from England. He was the organiser behind it all, made it all happen.”
Hinshelwood has since received his Lions cap as part of the 1888 Capping Project and said he feels fortunate to have been able to be part of the tourists’ incredible history.
“I did receive my cap, number #437 a couple of years ago as part of the Capping Project and I think it was a really worthwhile undertaking and much appreciated,” he added.
“It sits proudly with my Scotland cap and I’m very chuffed to have been a part of the Lions in the early days. I would like to think and hope that the couple of Tours that we did had some input to it all becoming better for the Lions on the Tours in the early 70s.”