#5 Lions Flashback: 1966 New Zealand v British Lions series

Getting closer in our countdown to the British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand, it is only fitting that Last Word On Rugby offer rugby fans a ‘Lions flashback’ or two. Continuing today, follow us as we recall ten of the best clashes from historic tours.

#5 ‘Lions Flashback’- New Zealand v British Lions 1966 series

#5: Looking at this Lions flashback from 1966, it was in a time of the Beatles and swinging-sixties fashion, this group of rugby tourists set out on a journey downunder. A tour which began on May 28, and was completed on September 10 (not including travel). Some calculate that as 144 days away–intolerable today, but this Lions flashback takes us to a different time.

The last of the ‘extended tours’ so with the advantage of air travel, the side was able to include a large schedule of 35 matches in total. And that included a stop over in Australia. Offensively though, that saw a loss. Not ideal preparations for a New Zealand tour, even with the talented men who were on it. Names that would herald the era: Willie John McBride, Stewart Wilson, Mike Gibson, David Watkins, Jim Telfer, Alun Pask, Brian Price, Ronny Lamont and Ray McLoughlin.

‘Five Nations’ champions Wales provided 11 players in total. Skipper Mike Campbell-Lamerton brought his stoic Scottish outlook to the squad. Ex-military, his maturity held the side together, however by the end of the tour his leadership was passed in favour to David Watkins. At the end of the long away period, many players had been ‘rung ragged’ with the duration and rugby-intensity.

A Game Played in a Different Time

As a ‘Lions flashback’ note, the game was different. Yes, that is obvious as not only was the scoring a complete change to what we see today, but the pace too. With stricter controls by the referees, stoppages were often. It is joked that in some matches, you will have seen 15 minutes of rugby and 25 minutes of play being reset….the truth is somewhere in between.

Lineouts were a place of real contention–in the above video, this disputed set-play area proved to be an issue over the whole tour. That included the matches against the provincial sides. One of the more enjoyable aspects of a large tour, although losses to Southland, Otago and Wellington was hardly perfect going. As was a draw 6-6 only a week out from the first test.

While test results went against the visitors in each International, it was their inability to halt the All Blacks from scoring tries that really cost them. With 15 tries scored over the four matches, it seemed that the strength of the home side was hard to beat. Esteemed NZ Rugby historian Don Cameron described them as “a supremely confident All Black squad expertly picked and trained by Fred Allen, with a cast-iron pack and very effective backs.”

All Blacks in 16 Match Winning Streak

The 1966 British Lions met a team that was in the midst of one of rugby’s longest held records. An insurmountable record that stood until 2016.

Beginning the year earlier, it was a time when ‘Pinetree’ Colin Meads, Ian MacRae, Ken Gray, Kel Tremain, Brian Lochore and halfback Chris Laidlaw. Mick Williment, the main points taker, kept the All Blacks out in front. Even in the second test, behind 8-9 at halftime, a ‘harsh talking-to’ from The Needle pushed his side to restore the ledger. Watch the video of the fourth test here.

Some might say that the British Isles team just happened on a better side. Probably, but after an arduous tour it may have fallen the way of so many recent schedules. Holding teams together was the key to success. It would take another disappointment in South Africa for the British and Irish Lions ship to be re-directed in the winning direction.

Note: In 1971, they took on the All Blacks and; to date, are the only side to see a series win in New Zealand.


Follow our ‘Lions flashback’ series, building up towards the opening game of the British and Irish Lions tour, on June 3.

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