Southland-born Lynn McConnell is a sportswriter/historian with 40 years experience in journalism having been sports editor of The Evening Post and The Southland Times. Lynn has written several books including 'Behind the Silver Fern: Playing Rugby for New Zealand' together with Tony Johnson.Read more exclusive columns
The All-Time Lions XV
Lynn McConnell 16 Dec 2016 Getty Images
Their players must dominate any composite side selected as the best of the British and Irish Lions through the years but the thought of a side representative of all Lions tours to New Zealand can only whet the appetite ahead of the DHL New Zealand Lions Series 2017. Lynn McConnell selects his all-time Lions side for Allblacks.com.
FULLBACK: J.P.R. WILLIAMS
In contention: ANDY IRVINE
John Williams, universally known by his initials J.P.R., was first exposed to New Zealand on the ill-fated 1969 tour by Wales. But like many of his team-mates then they were superior players who were up for the challenge when they returned in 1971. Williams played in 14 of the 24 tour matches, including all four Tests, and won a reputation as a solid last line of defence while also being a good exponent of running into the backline. His dropped goal in the fourth Test helped seal the series for his side.
Andy Irvine toured in 1977 and was favoured for his attacking running game which epitomised much of Lions rugby. He had made his mark two years earlier on a tour of New Zealand with Scotland.
OPINION: WHO WILL LINE UP FOR THE LIONS IN 2017?
WINGS: GERALD DAVIES, TONY O'REILLY
In contention: Peter Jackson, Ken Jones, Rory Underwood
Like Williams, Gerald Davies had toured in 1969, and he didn't make his first appearance until the sixth game in 1971, but there was no doubting his class. He played in 10 games and scored 10 tries with scintillating speed and evasion skills. Included in his haul were four tries against Hawke's Bay.
Tony O'Reilly had been the star of the Lions' tour of South Africa in 1955 as a 19-year-old and there was great interest in how he fared in New Zealand. He didn't let anyone down, scoring 17 tries in 17 games and was always a key performer in one of the more exciting backlines to tour New Zealand.
England's Peter Jackson went close to besting Davies. He wasn't the fastest of wings but had marvellous footwork and he used that to score 16 tries in 1959. The Olympic sprinter with a silver medal from the 100m relay, Ken Jones, was another top performer when touring with the 1950 side for whom he scored 16 tries in 16 games. Of more recent times there have been few more competitive wings than Rory Underwood and while his tour was a shorter variety, there will be few who forget his demonstration of class in the Athletic Park win over the All Blacks in 1993.
CENTRE: JOHN DAWES
In contention: Bleddyn Williams
More dynamic and explosive players than John Dawes may have graced Lions sides but for solidity in defence, ability to feed players into space and for leadership, none were better than the captain of the 1971 side, a role he handled in spite of several other leaders in the side. Appearing in 17 tour matches, he faced the heaviest workload of any in the side but ended with the ultimate prize, the only Lions captain to have won a series in New Zealand.
Bleddyn Williams could just as easily have filled the role taken by Dawes. He left a huge impression on New Zealanders during the 1950 tour with his elusive running and showed his worth in touching down 10 times in 15 appearances on tour.
SECOND FIVE-EIGHTHS: MIKE GIBSON
In contention: Jeremy Guscott
The only player to tour New Zealand three times with the Lions, Mike Gibson, whose preferred position was first five-eighths, is fit to rank among the finest backs ever to play in New Zealand. On his first tour in 1966, All Blacks coach Fred Allen instructed Ian MacRae, that he was to run with the ball at Gibson every time in order to force him to tackle thus minimising his threat. That's how good he was. It worked in 1966 but in 1971 the assembled class around Gibson allowed him to blossom as a key contributor to the series win.
Jeremy Guscott's reputation had preceded him in 1993 and while generally a marked man, he still managed to demonstrate his all-round skills and showed his class more often than not. His contribution to Rory Underwood's second Test try was all class. He was under strong competition from Welshman Scott Gibbs for his place.
FIRST FIVE-EIGHTHS: BARRY JOHN
In contention: Roger Spong, Jackie Kyle, Phil Bennett
In reality, the position of first five-eighths, or flyhalf as the Lions call it, could have been filled by a number of players, but for sheer impact it is impossible to go past the effort of Barry John on the 1971 tour. He became known as King John and was such an influence with ball-in-hand and for his tactical and goal-kicking that he was a dominating performer for the side. He relished the open play of the provincial games, but showed the skill to tighten his play in the Test matches. Few players have left such a lasting impression.
But throughout their history the Lions have been blessed with key performers. In 1930 Roger Spong established the trend with a memorable tour in setting up his outsides. Then in 1950, probably the greatest challenger to John, Ireland's Jackie Kyle showed why he was regarded as the best of his era. In 1977 Phil Bennett, who followed John in the Wales side, could have repeated his feats but was burdened with the captaincy during one of New Zealand's wettest winters and was unable to be quite so dominant.
HALFBACK: GARETH EDWARDS
In contention: Dickie Jeeps, Chico Hopkins
Having such an outstanding combination with Barry John through their time with Wales, it was no surprise that Gareth Edwards should secure the halfback spot in the side. But he achieved it on his own merits as one of the greatest in the position in the game. His scrap with one of New Zealand's greats, Sid Going, was one of the highlights of the series. A strong runner with the ball, a clever tactical player and a superb passer, Edwards had all the skills.
The halfback in the first three Tests of the 1959 tour Dickie Jeeps, a strong, tough character, who made his mark in South Africa with the Lions in 1955, was the ignition point of a highly-talented backline and his experience proved important in setting up his outsides.
NUMBER EIGHT: MERVYN DAVIES
In contention: Willie Duggan, Iain Paxton
A tall man, Mervyn Davies was best described as Mr Consistent. So consistent was he that he was part of both the 1971 and 1974 Lions teams that beat New Zealand and South Africa, while also winning five Five Nations titles with Wales. His height meant he became a dominant figure at the back of the lineout where he controlled proceedings while his support play added to his qualities.
As tough nuts go, they didn't come made of much harder stuff than Ireland's Willie Duggan, the No.8 on the 1977 Lions tour of New Zealand. He was within millimetres of what would have been a series-equalling try in the fourth Test. Scotsman Iain Paxton was another hard nut who provided Murray Mexted with a stern challenge during the 1983 series, especially in the lineouts.
FLANKERS: JOHN TAYLOR, DEREK QUINNELL
In contention: Peter Winterbottom, Ben Clarke, Noel Murphy
London Welsh flanker John Taylor could have been a New Zealand loose forward such was his style of play. A quality support player, a heady defender and useful with the ball in hand, he played all four Tests of the 1971 series and his experience was vital, especially having toured South Africa in 1968.
Derek Quinnell toured with the 1971 side without having played for Wales, but such was talent that he made his Test debut in the third Test in Wellington. However, by the time he returned with the 1977 side, he was one of the toughest competitors who didn't mind getting into the rough places.
England's Peter Winterbottom had the misfortune to be in the 1983 side which was beaten in a 4-0 clean sweep but that wasn't the result of his efforts which deserved greater support. He had his reward with three more Tests on the 1993 tour, including a win. On that 1993 tour Ben Clarke also made a big impression in a solid Lions pack on the side of the scrum. When it comes to durability Noel Murphy was up there, having toured in 1959 (three Tests) and 1966 (two Tests).
LOCKS: WILLIE JOHN McBRIDE, MARTIN BAYFIELD
In contention: Delme Thomas, Bill Beaumont, Martin Johnson, Maurice Colclough
Durability among locks is a vital asset when touring New Zealand and Willie John McBride had that by the spades full. A tourist in 1966 and 1971, he had one of the tougher jobs, marking Colin Meads - and that says it all. A top lineout performer in the days before assisted jumping, he was a key man in both touring sides.
Martin Bayfield probably caused more headaches for opponents and opposition coaches than most. A tall man he dominated lineouts, again in the days before lifting and he provided much of the impetus for the problems the All Blacks suffered up front throughout the 1993 series. It took the All Blacks to force the Lions to kick the ball out, rather than do it themselves, to reduce his influence in the vital third Test.
McBride's Test locking partner on both the 1966 and 1971 tours Delme Thomas had to go very close to making the playing XV but was just edged by Bayfield. Martin Johnson came to New Zealand in 1993 as a replacement but had an immediate impact while in 1983 Maurice Colclough fought something of a losing battle in the tight, but not without earning plenty of credits for himself.
PROPS: GRAHAM PRICE, FRAN COTTON
In contention: Gethin Jenkins, Sean Lynch, Ian McLauchlan
It is doubtful the Lions have ever fielded a better prop than tighthead specialist Graham Price. What a revelation he would have been in modern rugby. He toured New Zealand in 1977 and 1983, playing in all the Tests and showing remarkable durability and winning the respect of all he marked. Added to his scrummaging skill was great speed around the field.
His partner up front in 1977 was the England loosehead Fran Cotton. He was another hard nut who thrived in the scrummaging game and, on what was a miserably wet tour, he was at home as New Zealand side's struggled with their power game up front.
In more recent times Welshman Gethin Jenkins played all three Tests on the 2005 tour and has enjoyed plenty of respect for the power of his play. Back in 1971, the early loss of Ray McLoughlin and Sandy Carmichael resulted in extra pressure being applied to Sean Lynch and Ian 'Mighty Mouse' McLauchlan but they responded in outstanding fashion.
HOOKER: PETER WHEELER
In contention: Colin Deans, John Pullin
At a time when scrummaging was king in rugby, England's Peter Wheeler was central to the forward dominance enjoyed by the 1977 Lions in New Zealand. He played all four Tests, all of them in partnership with Price, and with Cotton for three of them. They were a formidable unit, and Wheeler added to that with his consistent lineout throwing and aggression in loose quarter play.
Scotland's Colin Deans would have to be one of the unluckiest of all Lions hookers. It was his lot in 1983 to have the second spot behind tour captain Ciaran Fitzgerald and it was the general belief that Deans was the better hooker while Fitzgerald had the leadership quality the Lions wanted. Englishman John Pullin was the striker in the 1971 Lions pack and was an outstanding performer in that side.