The 1974 British Lions Tour of South Africa

The British Lions have only toured South Africa six times since 1960 so not many players get the opportunity to represent the Springboks against the tourists. In the 1974 tour, which was probably the most controversial and talked about Lions tour to this country, there were no less than five Ikey players who represented the Springboks against the tourists. 

Ikey players in the Bok team: 

 

Back Row: 2nd from left, Roy McCallum; 3rd from left Dugald MacDonald; 2nd from right Peter Whipp.

Middle Row: 2nd from right Chris Pope

Front Row: 3rd from left Ian McCallum

The ’74 Lions side had no weaknesses and they came to South Africa with a thorough understanding of the Springboks mind-set. It was Captain McBride’s 5th tour as a British and Irish Lions; his first Lions tour to South Africa was in 1962. They knew that if you can beat the Springboks in the scrums they can be beaten so they targeted the scrum and practiced this area in particular many months before the tour. 

South Africa didn’t have television in the early 70’s so South Africans didn’t see that coaching and training methods had taken a more professional turn in the UK. The printed press was the only information that was readily available and were very superficial with what it actually revealed about the players.

The games against Western Province, Transvaal and Free State had significant impact on the selectors and the series. Western Province ran the ball at the Lions and scored two good tries on a dry field. This was incidentally the last time a try was registered on a Saturday match against the Lions up to the fourth test. The success of the WP backline and the ability of their pack to manage upfront resulted in eight Province players being selected for the first test.

Ironically, Newlands was heavy with rain on test day and the Lions controlled the match with forwards and scrumhalf while the Springboks never tried to run the ball. SA lost that first test 12-3 and the Springbok selectors panicked and started what is now known as “the farce of ‘74” selection process. That test was the first of Chris Pope’s 9 tests. Sadly that was Roy McCallum first and only test. He deserved a second chance as much as anyone as he was a brilliant scrumhalf, but suffered behind a springbok pack dominated by the British Lions. He paid the ultimate price for his forwards lack of dominance.

For the 2nd Test, Morné du Plessis was moved from No8 to 6 and Dugald McDonald was brought in as No8. In total there where 6 changes and one positional shift to the team. The Lions won 28 – 9. The selection panic continued and a total of 9 changes and one positional switch was made for the third test, which South Africa Lost 9 – 26. The fourth and final test was drawn 13 – 13 and will be remembered for all the controversy around some of the refereeing decisions.

The tour will be remembered as well for the violence and the '99 call' (originally the '999 call' but it was too slow to shout out) which was meant to show that the Lions were a team and would not take any more of the violence being meted out to them. It was a harsh response to what the team were facing, but intended to show that the Lions would act as one and fight unsporting behavior with more of the same. The idea was that the referee would be unlikely to send off all of the Lions if they all attacked. At the 'Battle of Boet Erasmus Stadium', in Port Elizabeth, one of the most violent matches in rugby history, there is famous video footage of JPR Williams running over half of the pitch and launching himself at Moaner van Heerden after such a call. 

The 1974 Tour of the Lions to South Africa was undoubtedly the most unsettling tour ever for Springbok rugby. Touring unbeaten through South Africa superior in every aspect in virtually every single match including the test matches it was a massive wake-up call for South African rugby.

 

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