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My British & Irish Lions All-Time Best XV
The rarity value of the Lions’ tours adds to their romance. Once every four years they travel, alternately, to South Africa, Australia and New Zealand and, every four years, the temptation for pundits to choose a Lions All Time Best XV becomes irresistible.
It certainly was in my case, and here is my stab at picking the best XV.
I don’t expect anyone will agree with my choices completely, and please let me know in the comments where you think I’ve gone wrong. Anyway, here goes…
Fullback: JPR Williams (Wales). Stalwart of the 1971 side in New Zealand and a sensation in South Africa three years later, unflinching under the high ball and a fearless tackler. Took maximum advantage of the change in laws prohibiting kicking out on the full in the defenders’ 22 to become one of the game’s great counter-attackers.
Right wing: Tony O’Reilly (Ireland). Powerfully built and fast, O’Reilly scored 16 tries in South Africa in 1955 and a record 22 in Australia and New Zealand four years later. He was equally successful in business and became one of Ireland’s wealthiest men.
Left wing: Gerald Davies (Wales). The complete winger with lightning speed and a devastating side-step. A converted centre, he would play out of position in this side instead of O’Reilly because of his versatility.
Mike Gibson (Ireland). Genius at the heart of the great 1971 backline, with all the skills and an acute intelligence which made him the master of the counter-attack.
Jeremy Guscott (England). Elusive and elegant Englishman who kicked the dropped goal which won the 1997 series in South Africa.
Flyhalf: Cliff Morgan (Wales). Edges Jackie Kyle and Barry John through his brilliance during the 1955 South Africa tour when he scored a try in the 23-22 first test win described at the time as the “greatest game of all”.
Scrumhalf: Gareth Edwards (Wales). Wales’s pre-eminent player in the early 1970s when his team ruled British rugby which in turn dominated the world. Voted the greatest player of all time by a poll of players in Rugby World magazine in 2003.
Number eight: Mervyn Davies (Wales). “Merv the Swerve” with his distinctive white headband commanded the back of the scrum and the back of the lineout for Wales and the 1971 and 1974
Openside flanker: Fergus Slattery (Ireland). Tough and durable flanker with a startling turn of speed who served his apprenticeship with the Lions in 1971 before playing as first choice in the 1974 series.
Blindside flanker: Richard Hill (England). Played openside in 1997 but by the time of the 2001 tour to Australia he was at his rightful position as blindside. The best in the world at his peak.
Willie-John McBride (Ireland). Immensely strong physically and mentally. Won enduring fame as captain in 1974 when he told his team to stand up to any Springbok intimidation and “to take no prisoners”. They didn’t.
Martin Johnson (England). Immovable in the tight, irresistible in the loose and the lineout and a ruthlessly successful captain of the 1997 Lions and the 2003 World Cup champions.
Tighthead prop: Hugh McLeod (Scotland). Relentlessly hard prop on either side of the scrum, who more than held his own against the tough South Africans and New Zealanders in 1955 and 1959.
Loosehead prop: Ian McLauchlan (Scotland). Small for an international prop, “Mighty Mouse” won a place in the 1971 test side, scored a try on debut, and was equally effective in 1974 with his flawless scrummaging technique.
Hooker: Keith Wood (Ireland). Instantly recognisable with his shaven head, Wood hurled himself around the field to wonderful effect in South Africa in 1997, winning the man-of-the-match award in the second test.
Who would be in your Lions dream team?
PHOTO: British Lions centre Jeremy Gustcott celebrates victory over South Africa after the second Test in Durban June 28, 1997. REUTERS/Peter Andrews