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Slattery Talks Lions And The Second Test

Slattery Talks Lions And The Second Test

As the British & Irish Lions go in search of a Test series-saving win this weekend, they could do worse than draw inspiration from the all conquering 1974 Lions side.

The 1974 tour set the standard by which every tour has had to live up to, having swept all before them, but it was not as convincing as the 21 victories and one draw suggest.

“In that ’74 side we had to score in the last five minutes, probably in four games, to avoid defeat,” former Lions flanker Fergus Slattery told IrishRugby.ie.

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Fergus Slattery in action on the 1971 tour

“As good and all as we were, we still had to work to win games and four times I would say we were staring defeat in the face and required a little bit of brilliance by a couple of players.”

The Lions have yet to set the 2009 tour alight and Slattery feels that Paul O’Connell and his team-mates have to impose themselves on Saturday’s game, as he and his team-mates did in 1974, and stand up and be counted.

“In ’74 JJ Williams, Gareth Edwards and JPR Williams came into their own. There are matches where you could put a guy and say he’s the guy that turned this thing around.

“The key point in the ’74 tour was probably Gordon Brown catching the lineout ball from the South African hooker on the South African line just on half-time.

“Gordon caught it and literally all he had to do was fall on the ground to score the try. That simple little instance was a match-winning event.

“In the second half of that game, the third Test, JJ Williams scored two tries and Phil Bennett scored one. We had a good few players who were capable of doing that, that you could rely on to score.”

The problem for the current Lions so far is that although some players have played well, they have lacked standout performers who can take control of the game.

Slattery said: “The key is pretty simple. They have to win first phase possession, and if they don’t win first phase possession properly, they’re doomed.

“By not doing so last Saturday they were putting their back row under pressure. They picked a side last Saturday to run at the South Africans and that is pretty much what they did.

“The problem was the back row played too small a part in the game and the tight five were put under pressure in the set pieces.

“As a result of which, the back-line who were very capable of scoring weren’t in the game as much as they could have been.”

The ’74 side scored ten tries against the Springboks in the four Tests while conceding only one and Ian McGeechan’s men need to show the same defensive robustness to level the series.

“Nothing comes easy on these tours. In those days there was only one man adjudicating and that was the referee. The referee was South African.

“Referees in that environment, I’m not saying he is going to favour the home side but they are certainly not going to favour the visiting side.

“He was the only person. There were no linesmen that had a role to play or fourth referee and there was no television in South Africa in ’74 or New Zealand in ’71 and there were no citings.

“The games, in terms of physicality, were probably more physical in a lot of ways,” added Slattery, who captained Ireland on 18 occasions including the two Test wins on the 1979 tour to Australia.

The infamous ’99 call’ (when ‘99’ was called by a player it was said that each player would turn around and hit their nearest opponent) was born prior to the 1974 Lions tour but Slattery dismisses any suggestion that it was a general part of the Lions’ play.

“Rubbish. There is no doubt we would have confronted any messing and would have done it immediately rather than let it fester, but the 99 thing is played up.

“The only game where we would have been very focused on making sure, knowing that we were going to get a very physical reception was the third Test. A couple of fights broke out, but that was it.”

The introduction of professionalism has changed rugby and the Lions tour is no different. While the 1974 tour had a manager and an assistant manager, the current tour has nineteen members of management.

Slattery conceded: “It has obviously changed because it is a professional game, but I would say in terms of enjoyment it would be harder to get enjoyment out of it as a profession.

“We had the best of both worlds in a lot of ways, albeit we were amateurs. The pressure and emotions would be pretty much the same but as amateurs you are not corralled as professionals are.

“You are very much tied down as professional rugby players. As an amateur rugby player there is only so much tying down people can do with you and you have the freedom to do what you wanted to do with some constraints.”

One thing has remained constant. In ’74 like today’s Lions, the team was followed by the media wherever they went.

“We were tracked by the media in South Africa like there was no tomorrow because we were so successful. They were waiting for a story.

“They were waiting for a bit of scandal and gossip but they didn’t get it.

“The only time, collectively as a squad or otherwise, where we gave cause for what you might call bad press was in an incident in a hotel in East London (South Africa) where a couple of the guys did a bit of damage and that is the famous story where the manager of the hotel – there was so much rumpus and noise in the early hours of the morning – called Willie John McBride out of his room.

“He saw the manager and he was losing his marbles. Willie said to him, ‘what’s up?’ The manager said, ‘these guys have been causing all this hassle all night, creating noise and doing damage.’

“Willie didn’t say anything to him and the manager said, ‘well, I’m going to get the police. I’m going to get the police!’

“He was jumping into the lift and Willie called him back out of the lift. He thought thank God, he’s going to restore law and order here but Willie said to him, ‘how many are you going to get?’

“That was the only incident where you would say that that was silly and it was. It was a few guys getting a bit drunk, but the general behaviour of the Lions was impeccable in that sense.”

In the dying moments of the final Test in 1974, Slattery crossed the try-line only to be denied by the referee who was unable to see him ground the ball.

It would have given them the clean sweep, but all these years later what does Slattery make of it?

“A policeman wouldn’t ask that question! If I scored the bloody try nobody would have remembered,” he laughs.

On the current Lions and their hopes of turning the Test series around in Pretoria, Slattery reckons McGeechan and his players have it all to do.

“The problem is that they have been playing what are effectively ‘B teams’ in the warm-up games.

“They hadn’t been tested until last Saturday and they failed that test. They have to go out and win.

“They haven’t shown anything so far on this tour to suggest they can do that. I wouldn’t be optimistic. I would be realistic.”