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Blood will be spilt and tempers may flare
when the British and Irish Lions clash with
the world champion All Blacks but stricter
referees and modern technology should
prevent a repeat of the thuggish incidents
that have blighted past series.
That is at least the opinion of Alex “Grizz”
Wyllie, the former All Blacks enforcer and
coach who was in the thick of it during the
1971 tour, when the Lions prevailed 2-1
over Colin Meads’ side in a hard-fought and
Wyllie holds the distinction of sending one
of the 1971 tourists home, simply by getting
his face in the way of a clenched fist during
the infamous Canterbury v Lions tour match
The stalwart loose forward had a cut cheek
after wearing a punch from Ray McLoughlin
in the ‘Battle of Lancaster Park’ but it was
the Irish prop who came off second best with
a broken thumb ending his tour.
The Lions won the match 14-3 a week
before the opening test in Dunedin but also
lost another prop in Sandy Carmichael for
the series due to a cracked cheekbone.
Much has been written of Canterbury’s
role in a clash described as the “dirtiest”
played by Lions lock Delme Thomas, and
Wyllie freely admitted his red-and-black
team-mates were deliberate in their plans to
go in hard.
The gruff 72-year-old said most of the
beating up was committed off the field by
Scottish tour manager Doug Smith, who he
portrayed as a master of media management.
“A fair bit was made out of it,” Wyllie said
from his farm outside Christchurch.
“I mean, Doug Smith, their manager, he
sorted out their media and our media with
what happened. I knew some of the reporters
were going to say, ‘typically hard-fought New
Zealand game’ and Doug Smith got hold of
them and said, ‘This is too much. This isn’t
“And it actually blew it up probably a damn
sight more than it really was. There were
scuffles in it, yes. But not the way it was
blown up in some reports.”
The Lions’ front row had, in any case, set
the tone by boring in at scrum-time in the
previous tour match, said Wyllie, prompting
his Canterbury team-mates to resolve to
stamp it out in Christchurch.
Welsh halfback Gareth Edwards
remembers being ‘nearly decapitated’ by
Wyllie but the New Zealander claims he was
a non-combatant when McLoughlin swung
the haymaker that broke his thumb.
“When I tell people I was actually trying
to stop something, they say, ‘Yeah, you’re
joking,’” he laughed.
“I’ve caught up with Ray again in Ireland
and we’ve had a bit of a laugh about it.”
The Lions went on to claim the four-test
series with a tense 14-14 draw in the final
match at Eden Park, and Wyllie, who was
the All Blacks’ No 8 in three of the four
games, agreed that the Canterbury firestorm
may have galvanised the tourists.
The British and Irish Lions’ gruelling
match schedule on New Zealand soil has
been the subject of much hand-wringing in
recent weeks but skipper Sam Warburton
insists the arrangement has its perks.
Warburton, his 40 Lions team-mates and
the side’s coaching and support staff touched
down in Auckland yesterday afternoon to
great fanfare, and Maori welcome.
Captain Sam Warburton accepted the
wero, or challenge, and manager John
Spencer — a touring 1971 Lion — spoke
before the squad responded with a Welsh
Their 10-match, six-week tour begins
in Whangarei on Saturday against the
Provincial Barbarians and gradually increases
in intensity, culminating in their three-test
series against the All Blacks.
Gatland said yesterday that a negative
result against either the Baabaas or one
of the five Super Rugby franchises would
not be too much of a blot on the Lions’
copybook — as long as they can deliver in
the three tests.
A series victory would be the first since
1971 in New Zealand and just the second
in history, having been whitewashed in the
most recent series in 2005.
“ Who remembers the midweek games, the
other games?” Gatland said.
“It’s all about winning the test series.
“If we drop a game or two on the way,
as we’re looking at combinations or trying
things out, it’s not going to be the end of the
Most are anticipating the series will not be
alive by the third test, with the back-to-back
world champions tipped to extend their 45-
test home winning streak.
Making life more difficult for the touring
Lions — who have just finished a long
season of northern club rugby — is the
short turnaround between their arrival,
their first game and the nine arduous games
Gatland said he had been preparing for
the difficult schedule for 12 months. The
team enjoyed a recovery day yesterday after
spending Tuesday night in Melbourne
to mitigate jetlag, and go through night
sessions tonight and tomorrow.
They will then have to take on the Baabaas
Gatland said he would heavily rotate the
side in their first three games, with the
Barbarians game followed by clashes with
the Blues and Crusaders.
“ You can’t dwell on it or change it — if
you let negativity in terms of thinking
about those things worry you, it’s going to
influence the team,” Gatland said.
“A lot of the players for the team for
Saturday have been working together for
the past couple of weeks so hopefully they’ll
have a bit of a head start.”
The 28-year-old Warburton, on his
second tour as Lions skipper, felt the short
turnarounds would help his side focus
The Welsh flanker was itching to get out
on the field.
“ What ’s nice is that you don’t have a whole
lot of time to think about the games coming
up, like you would in a normal international
week,” Warburton told reporters.
“You actually enjoy these games a bit more,
because they come so quick. It’ll feel like
there’s all guns blazing.”
Shaking off the long-distance travel is also
“You do get a good feeling in the camp
when you win games but, realistically, these
next three weeks are going to be big learning
weeks — getting combinations together,
getting our processes right at lineout, scrum
time,” Warburton said.
“Ideally, we’d love to win all of those games
but, as long as we get better and better after
each fixture, then that’s good.
“If we won every game 3-0, I’d bite your
Warburton will lead the tour opener
against the New Zealand provincial
The flanker forms part of an all-Wales
loose forward trio for the match on Saturday,
while all three Scottish members of the tour
party are in the starting side.
England’s Ben Te’o is the starting second
five-eighth while the other New Zealand-
born tourist, Jared Payne, is on the reserves
Lions.— Stuart Hogg, Anthony Watson,
Jonathan Joseph, Ben Te’o, Tommy Seymour,
Jonathan Sexton, Greig Laidlaw, Toby
Faletau, Sam Warburton (capt), Ross
Moriarty, Iain Henderson, Alun Wyn
Jones, Kyle Sinckler, Rory Best, Joe Marler.
Reserves: Jamie George, Mako Vunipola,
Tadhg Furlong, George Kruis, Justin
Tipuric, Rhys Webb, Owen Farrell, Jared
Schedule no problem
The British and Irish Lions team captain
Sam Warburton receives a traditional
Maori welcome on their arrival at Auckland
Grizz Wyllie talks up
Lions tour rivalry
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