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The Lions overlooking Carwyn James

John Griffiths December 13, 2013
Carwyn James coached the Lions in 1971, but not 1974 © PA Photos
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What was the procedure for appointing the management of the 1974 Lions in South Africa? Why wasn't Carwyn James picked to coach them: he would have seemed a logical choice after the 1971 tour of New Zealand. Did Willie-John McBride have anything to do with Syd Millar's appointment? L de V, South Africa

Since 1968, the appointments of Lions manager and coach had been made the summer before the tour. Each of the Home Unions was invited to submit nominations for the posts to the Four Home Unions Committee (4HUC), chaired by John Tallent with Albert Agar as secretary.

Quite early in the piece, the Welsh submitted Handel Rogers and Alun Thomas as their managerial nominations for the 1974 tour with Clive Rowlands as their coaching nomination. (Rowlands was the national coach at the time).

Carwyn James had refused to consider nomination for conscientious reasons. He held strong principles about South Africa's anti-apartheid laws and regarded a sportsman as first and foremost a citizen. "It would not be right, would it?" he said when discussing the subject of his availability for the tour in late 1971.

Alun Thomas had been a Lion in SA with the 1955 team and toured there again as assistant manager with the Welsh side in 1964. His experience made him the strongest candidate among the list of managerial nominations. To get the tour party balance right, the 4HUC would probably have avoided having a Welshman as coach as well, and to strengthen the mix would have preferred a forward to complement Thomas (who was a back like Clive Rowlands and Carwyn James).

Appointing a candidate a year before the tour brought its own difficulties. Coaches were amateur; they relied on their professions for their daily crusts. Few organisations would want to lose a valued professional for four months, even with a year's notice.

The best qualified coaches based on experience at the time were felt to be England's John Burgess and John Elders, who coached England to a famous victory against South Africa at Ellis Park in June 1972. Elders, however, did not want to be nominated.

John Burgess coached the NW Counties to a famous win against the 1972-3 All Blacks at Workington and had England experience as coach on their 1971 tour of Fiji & the Far East. The 4HUC sent a delegation to visit Burgess's managing director, but the company weren't keen on releasing him and so Burgess fell out of the equation.

The coaches left for consideration were Bill Dickinson (Scotland) and two Irish nominees, Syd Millar and Roly Meates. Dickinson was (unfairly) felt to be too old and the post went to Syd Millar who'd only just finished his first season as Ireland's national coach, winning a share of the Five Nations in a unique quintuple tie and plotting a creditable draw against the All Blacks in January 1973. As a player, of course, he had been a triple-Lion: twice to South Africa (1962 & 1968) and earlier, in 1959, to Australia & New Zealand.

To the best of knowledge, Willie-John McBride had no input into the appointments - indeed, he wasn't even sure he'd make himself available for the tour until he saw how his form looked in the 1974 Five Nations. (It was a good year for him as it turned out).

While Millar plotted the tactics for the tour, McBride, his national captain in 1974 when Ireland won the Five Nations (and a former club-mate at Ballymena) became the natural choice as his captain of the Lions.

There was no surprise or even disagreement with that choice among the Home Unions.

John Griffiths is a widely respected rugby historian and is the author of several sports books, a regular contributor to the Daily Telegraph and co-author of the IRB International Rugby Yearbook. He has provided insight for Scrum.com since 1999.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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John Griffiths is a widely respected rugby historian and is the author of several sports books, a regular contributor to the Daily Telegraph and co-author of the IRB International Rugby Yearbook. He has provided insight for Scrum.com since 1999.
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