Lions Legend: David Duckham

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British & Irish Lions Squad 1971

The British & Irish Lions made history on their 1971 Tour as they secured a series victory against New Zealand – and David Duckham was an unheralded hero of the triumph.

Duckham was called up for the tourists just two years after forcing his way into the England side at centre, making his international debut for his country against Ireland in 1969.

He went on to make 17 appearances for the Lions in Australia and New Zealand, playing in the final three Tests of the Tour as the men in red claimed a first ever series win over the All Blacks.

His Lions debut came in the Tour opener, a 15-11 defeat to Queensland, before also playing on the wing in the wins against New South Wales and King Country-Wanganui.

Duckham’s first points were scored against South Canterbury-Mid Canterbury-North Otago, crossing the whitewash for a try after being selected at inside centre in the comfortable 25-6 win.

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Peter Dixon

But Duckham really caught the eye against West Coast-Buller, running in six tries for a 24-point individual haul in a dominant 39-6 success as he put his hand up for Test selection.

Duckham said: “Funnily enough, I wasn’t even originally selected to play and only came in after the first-choice winger, my very good friend John Spencer, picked up knocks beforehand.

“All six tries were scored wide out and remarkably Bob Hiller converted them all.”

While Duckham ultimately did not feature in the first Test 10 days later, which the Lions won 9-3, he started the final three matches against New Zealand on the wing in a formidable backline.

The Lions lost the second Test 22-12 as the All Blacks levelled the series but Duckham was at the heart of what proved to be a pivotal victory in the third match of the series in Wellington.

Classic Match: Edwards and John combine in style for 1971 Lions

In fact, Duckham reflected that the result of the second Test mattered little for one of the most confident sides to ever face the All Blacks, insisting the Lions still backed themselves.

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.”

With the magical Welsh half-back pairing of Gareth Edwards and Barry John marshalling the backline, the Lions raced into an early lead in the third Test before the tourists delivered the decisive blow.

Duckham recalled: “We had a lineout 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.

David Duckham

“Gareth just ran straight through, steamed round the back of our lineout and had Barry John on his shoulder. The first defender, Bob Burgess, was handed off.

“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.”

The Lions converted that lead into a famous first – and so far, only – series victory in New Zealand as Duckham also started the final Test, which ended in an enthralling 14-14 draw.

Duckham concluded the Tour with a total of 11 tries and 44 points, having heavily contributed to one of the most iconic series wins, forever etching his name into Lions folklore.

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