Phil Gifford has his own take on the legacy of the 1971 Lions, who left these shores 50 years ago as just the third touring team to win a Test series here over the All Blacks (pages 28-31).
Carwyn James, the gifted, hugely likeable, Lions’ coach in 1971, was also a brilliantly silver -tongued public relations man, who burnished the team’s reputation with wonderfully crafted quotes.
“From the age of six,” he’d say, “the All Blacks played the same pattern, rigid and predictable. They love the perspiration, but are not all that impressed by the inspiration. They never really understood (first five) Barry John. He was a being from another planet.”
There is no question in my mind that James was the best coach to bring a touring team to New Zealand.
What he did with the Lions was sheer genius, as making them the most schizoid team we’ve ever seen baffled and confounded the All Blacks, and, in many ways, the whole country.
On the one hand you had the Lions who thrashed Waikato 35-14 and then Wellington 47-9, in the third and fifth games, to establish themselves as a thrilling force in international rugby, apparently determined to use the brilliance of a superstar backline to win their matches.
They certainly had some brilliant backs, from JPR Williams, a tough, hard-running fullback, through to Gareth Edwards, the dynamic halfback. We’ll get to first five Barry John soon, but the best player in the team was Irish centre Mike Gibson.
Continue this story in our September-October issue.