Lions Legends XV
Sky Sports rugby union writer Tony Curtis names his ultimate British and Irish Lions team from past tours.
By Tony Curtis - Follow me on Twitter @SkysportsTC. Last Updated: 07/05/13 12:12pm
With less than a month to go before the British and Irish Lions depart for their tour of Australia, we look back at a team of legendary tourists.
Since 1888, a number of the greatest players ever to grace the home unions have appeared for the Lions.
If current coach Warren Gatland has had some sleepless nights in naming the class of 2013, imagine the difficulty of naming just 15 from tours gone by.
Andy Irvine, Jim Telfer, Gerald Davies, Gordon Brown, Jeremy Guscott, Phil Bennett, Syd Millar, Peter Winterbottom, Ken Scotland, Cliff Morgan, Bobby Windsor, Noel Murphy, Gavin Hastings and Dickie Jeeps are among the world-class players missing from the list.
Remember you can follow the current Lions in Australia live on Sky Sports HD.
15 JPR Williams
The hugely talented sportsman played in all eight Tests between 1971 and 1974. A member of the all-conquering Wales team of the 1970s, JPR was a phenomenal counter-attacker. He was pretty impressive with the boot as well, landing a 50-yard drop-goal in the 14-14 fourth Test against New Zealand. He didn't shirk the physical aspect - as South Africa lock Moaner Van Heerden can testify.
14 Tony O'Reilly
The Irish winger boasts a scoring record that is second to none. In 36 appearances for the Lions he crossed for a sensational 37 tries, including six times in 10 Tests. O'Reilly had only been capped four times when he was called up for the 1955 tour to South Africa - and he set off as he meant to go on with two tries against Transvaal Universities.
13 Brian O'Driscoll
The only member of this Lions Legends team that is still playing, O'Driscoll has toured three times - and was captain in 2005 before injury ended his tour. His partnership with Jamie Roberts was one of the highlights of the 2009 tour, while his try in the first Test victory over Australia in 2001 is up there with the best-ever scored by a Lion.
12 Mike Gibson
The gifted Irishman became synonymous with the Lions for more than a decade. He played in 68 matches - including 12 Tests - between 1966 and 1977, scoring 22 tries. He even showed his prowess with the boot adding five drop-goals, five conversions and eight penalties. Only injury and work commitments prevented him appearing and scoring more.
11 JJ Williams
The Wales winger certainly had an eye for the tryline, crossing 22 times in 25 appearances. A member of the 1974 and 1977 Lions, Williams had electric pace and a brilliant understanding with Gareth Edwards. He wrote himself into the record books with six tries in one match - against South Western Districts in 1974 - while he crossed twice in both the second and third Tests on the same tour.
10 Jack Kyle
The Belfast-born fly-half might have only toured once, however he left New Zealand and Australia with a reputation as one of the greatest-ever Lions. He made 19 appearances on the 1950 tour - including in all six Tests - with his elusive running and turn of pace tormenting the opposition. He scored a stunning try in the 9-9 first Test draw with the All Blacks and also crossed in the second Test victory over Australia.
9 Gareth Edwards
The finest No 9 of his generation, Edwards appeared in 10 Tests for the Lions between 1968-74. The Welshman, who scored 16 tries in 38 appearances in total, brilliantly orchestrated play, while his ability to exploit a gap made him such a threat. His break in the third Test against the All Blacks in 1971 created the try for Gerald Davies, while he dropped a goal to break South Africa in the first Test three years later.
1 Fran Cotton
The giant England prop played seven Tests - and 34 matches in total - for the Lions between 1974 and 1977. Cotton, who could play on either side of the scrum, also toured in 1980 only for a health scare to end his tour prematurely. Alongside Ian McLauchlan and Bobby Windsor, Cotton helped take apart South Africa during the 3-0 series win in '74.
2 Keith Wood
The Ireland hooker made five Test appearances for the Lions between 1997 and 2001. He was part of the pocket-sized front-row - alongside Tom Smith and Paul Wallace - that dismantled the Springboks in 1997. While his free-running style earned him the tag 'The Raging Potato', he was also an inspirational character who symbolised the Lions ethos.
3 Graham Price
The Pontypool prop is the most-capped Lions front-row, having appeared in 12 successive Tests between 1977 and 1983. Tough as teak in the scrum, Price impressed on the tour to New Zealand in 1977 before he took on the Springboks at their own game three years later. Although a master of the dark arts up front, Price was also a useful ball carrier as well.
4 Martin Johnson
The only man to captain two tours, Johnson has booked his place in the history of the Lions. Johnson first toured in 1993, arriving in New Zealand as a replacement for Wade Dooley despite having been capped just once, before skippering the side in 1997 - when the Lions beat south Africa 2-1 - and 2001. Johnson led by example, playing in 15 games in total.
5 Willie John McBride
When people talk of the Lions, McBride is a player who stands out more than most. Like compatriot Gibson, McBride toured five times but the Ulsterman famously skippered the 1974 squad that brushed aside all-comers. An inspirational leader, McBride was also the pack leader in 1971 and was the brains behind the infamous "99" call three years later. Between 1962 and 1974 he would make 70 appearances.
6 Richard Hill
Hill had made just the four international appearances when he was called up for the 1997 trip. He went on to play a crucial role as the Lions won the first two Tests to clinch the series - and four years later in Australia he was equally impressive for one and a half Tests before injury struck. It was the turning point as the Lions lost in his absence. Hill would also play one Test in 2005.
7 Fergus Slattery
Slattery first toured with the Lions in 1971 and impressed with his determination and bravery in New Zealand. Only illness ruled him out of making a Test appearance, however his time was to come three years later. He played all four Tests in South Africa and he was denied the match-winning try in the drawn fourth Test when the referee claimed he couldn't see the grounding of the ball.
8 Merv Davies
'Merve the Swerve' is arguably not only greatest No 8 to grace the Lions, but the world game itself. The Welshmen was pivotal to the series wins in 1971 and 1974 - and he seemed destined to skipper the tourists three years later only for a brain haemorrhage to end his career prematurely. Davies scored eight tries in 26 matches for the Lions - and appeared in all eight Tests.
Coach: Sir Ian McGeechan
Who better to lead the legends than the Lions King himself? Two tours as a player - with eight Tests between 1974 and 1977 - were followed by four as head coach and one as assistant. McGeechan guided the Lions to series wins over Australia (1989) and South Africa (1997) while he was unlucky not to overcome the All Blacks in 1993 and the Boks in 2009. As coach of the 'dirt-trackers' during the 2005 tour to New Zealand, McGeechan's side would finish unbeaten in five matches. As head coach, McGeechan took charge of 48 matches for the Lions, winning 36, drawing one and losing 11.
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