British & Irish Lions History: Since 1888

British & Irish Lions History: Since 1888

1974 – The ‘Invincibles’ win 21 out of 22

Willie John McBride 1974The Lions followed up their first series triumph in New Zealand three years earlier with another incredible Tour which saw them win 21 of their 22 fixtures, including a 3-0 Test Series success.The ‘Invincibles’ – as they have become known since – won 21 matches with the other, the fourth Test, finishing in a 13-13 draw when the series against their hosts was already sewn up.The high expectations after the 1971 success were met and surpassed in emphatic style as the class of 1974 became the only Lions team to ever go a whole Tour, which back then lasted three months, undefeated.Managed by Welshman Alun Thomas, with Syd Millar as coach, it is thought the Lions, captained by Willie John McBride, were so successful because of the conscious decision to fight fire with fire.In previous Tours key players had been lost to injury in matches against provincial sides, and the Lions camp deemed this a deliberate tactic with Test matches looming.

The 99 Call

So in 1974 they adopted the ’99 call’, a policy where all members of the team would gather to retaliate if they felt the opposition were being over physical.The Tour began in earnest on May 15, 1974, with the opening game against Western Transvaal at Olen Park, in Potchefstroom, with The Lions romping away to a 59-13 victory.Gordon Brown started the scoring in the first five minutes and the Lions finished the game, which set the tone for the entire Tour, with nine tries.

The Battle of Boet Erasmus Stadium

Willie John

After winning the first two Tests 12-3 then 28-9 in Cape Town and Pretoria respectively, the Lions took on the Springboks on July 13 in what was later dubbed the ‘battle of Boet Erasmus Stadium’.

The game is best remembered for its physicality but there was some great rugby played – some of the best of the entire Tour in fact.

Having ridden out the storm of the Boks’ initial assault, Gordon Brown bundled over from a lineout and the Lions went in 7-3 ahead at the break.After the interval they really turned the screw and JJ Williams bagged a double as the Port Elizabeth crowd were treated to a Lions masterclass.The game was halted while officials and players from both sides clawed through the mud to find Johan de Bruyn’s glass eye and after Brown died in 2001, aged 53, de Bruyn presented his widow with the glass eye in a specially made trophy.The Lions had shown in no uncertain terms they could not be bullied and two tries from wing JJ Williams, plus a score from man of the hour ‘Broon frae Troon’, wrapped up a 26-9 victory and, with it, the series.

Aiming for a series whitewash

Lions in action in 1974The tourists then completed their clean sweep of victories against provincial opponents so all that remained for the Lions was to get up for one final game, the fourth Test in Johannesburg on July 27th.The Test was a close contest which saw Jackie Snyman put the hosts ahead after only five minutes but Roger Uttley replied with a try which was converted by Phil Bennett.Snyman restored parity with another penalty but it was The Lions who led 10-6 when the half-time whistle blew after Andy Irvine crossed the whitewash.Peter Cronje made it 10-10 when he crossed and the Lions could have lost their unbeaten record when Snyman struck his third penalty with just ten minute remaining.But Irvine stepped up with four minutes to go to level the game and secure The Lions the only unbeaten Tour in the post-war era.

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