Lions victorious in Battle of Boet Erasmus
July 13, 1974
Gordon Brown opened the Lions' try count
© Getty Images
The British Lions sealed an historic victory in Port Elizabeth to claim their first series win against South Africa in 78 years.
Two tries from winger JJ Williams and another from second-row Gordon Brown saw the Lions power past the all-white Springboks in the third Test to claim a famous win on a tour to apartheid-era South Africa that was steeped in controversy.
But the 'Battle of Boet Erasmus' has come to be remembered less for the result and more for being one of the most violent matches in rugby history. Determined not to be cowed by the Springboks' physical approach, the Lions had adopted a collective approach to self-defence and the clash was punctuated by repeated outbreaks of full-blown warfare.
After suffering defeat in the first two encounters of the four-Test series, South Africa went into the third Test under huge pressure. Determined to right a sinking ship, the hosts dropped all but five players for the Port Elizabeth clash and arrived fully prepared for a fight.
Taking the field with what the Observer's Kevin Mitchell described as a "demented look", the Springboks threw everything they had at the Lions in the opening half hour. Speaking to Mitchell in 2009, Lion centre Dick Milliken said he had "never experienced such intensity on a rugby pitch" as in that first 30 minutes.
But the tourists withstood the onslaught and, with the half-time break looming, lock Gordon Brown snatched the ball short from a line-out. The giant Scot powered over for the Lions' first try, nipping the Springbok revival in the bud.
Willie John McBride skippered the Lions to their triumph © Getty Images
Emerging for the second-half 7-3 to the good, the Lions played some of their best rugby of the tour to take the match out of their hosts' reach. A brace of tries from Williams did most of the damage, but Phil Bennett chipped in with two dropped goals and Andy Irvine landed a memorable 63-yard penalty to rub salt into South African wounds.
Williams' second try was something special. Coming in the final 15 minutes, it was described at the time as the "try of the tour" by the Daily Express' Chris Lander: "Dick Milliken worked the ball to Llanelli wing John J Williams, who threatened to go outside his opposite number," Lander wrote. "But [he] heard JPR Williams screaming for the ball on the inside.
"The Welsh full-back was checked short of the line, but by now John J. was accelerating on a diagonal run behind JPR for a try that broke the Springbok hearts."
While the try might have been a thing of beauty, the repeated punch-ups gave the match an uglier look overall. The Lions were determined to neutralise the Springboks' dirty tricks and adopted the infamous '99' call - the cry of which incited each Lion to attack an opponent in a show of collective force.
One incident in Port Elizabeth saw JPR Williams charge 60 yards to punch Springbok second-row Moaner van Heerden, while another scuffle saw Johan de Bruyn lose his glass eye after being clobbered by Brown. The eye was eventually found, but the Lions had shown they would not be bullied.
After the match, Springbok captain Hannes Marais paid tribute to the ferocity of the tourists. "Your Lions have devoured us from start to finish," he told Lander. "They are the greatest side I've played against. They won in New Zealand and now they have become the first team to take a series here in 78 years.
"Nobody can deny them the title of world champions. It's difficult to see how we can stop them making it a grand slam in the last Test."
The Springboks did in fact go on to deny the Lions a series grand slam, earning a 13-13 draw in the final Test in Johannesburg. But while the Lions were not without their critics for opting to tour in a country in the grips of apartheid, victory in Port Elizabeth ensured the 1974 tourists could leave a troubled South Africa as champions.
The Lions earned their first series win against South Africa in 78 years © Getty Images
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Communication error please reload the page.
Aljaz Bedene will soon join Andy Murray as Great Britain's second ATP top 100 player after being granted a UK passport - but has a fight on his hands if he hopes to play Davis Cup for his adopted country
Fernando Alonso said the McLaren felt much better than he expected during his first run in the MP4-30 since pre-season testing
Aaron Baddeley's tee shot on the par-4 17th Thursday at the Texas Open would have been the second hole-in-one on a par 4 in PGA Tour history had he only taken a mulligan
Nico Rosberg thinks the perfect strategy in Malaysia will involve getting as much out of one stint on the option tyre as possible during Sunday's race
The Hurricanes have produced a blistering second-half performance to record a commanding 36-12 victory over Melbourne Rebels in Wellington
Fallout continues from the NSW-Brumbies derby, with one Tahs forward - not Potgieter - surprised by other unsavoury comments during the game, Greg Growden reports
Greg Growden previews Super Rugby round 7. We've also got key stats, team news and all the line-ups to inform your ESPN Footytips Super Rugby picks
Will Mercedes dominate again? Can anybody catch up with the help of a rainstorm? And will the Red Bull/Renault relationship tear itself apart? All those questions and more will be answered at this weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix
Maurice Hamilton pieces together what we know from the Fernando Alonso crash and explains why the latest answers raise more questions
John Mitchell lapped up the action on 'Sensational Saturday' - but warns not to expect a repeat come Rugby World Cup time later this year
Tiger Woods is confident of recovering from a poor run of form to qualify for the US Ryder Cup team in 2016, according to captain Davis Love III
Jonas Gutierrez has told Canal+ he will never forgive Newcastle for the way the club treated him during his battle with cancer, but wants to stay at St James' Park beyond this summer
Lionel Messi earned more than €1 million (£740,000) a week last year to make him the world's highest-paid player and Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho was the best-paid coach, according to a new survey
Andy Murray has expressed fears that his game will regress without full-time coaching in a candid exchange with a fellow Twitter user as he prepares to add former world No.4 Jonas Bjorkman to his coaching team
Luis Suarez has laughed off the idea that the Barcelona players have set out to help Lionel Messi beat Cristiano Ronaldo to La Liga's top scorer award
Unbeaten heavyweight Dillian Whyte, 28, (14-0, 11 KOs) tells ESPN where his rivalry with Anthony Joshua stems from and outlines the plan for his career this year after returning from a doping ban in November
Some of the best fighters to ever glove up have plied their trade in the Octagon - now ESPN list the 10 best who have fought under the UFC banner
Who was the first Briton to win the British Grand Prix?
Where does Anthony Davidson's record of 24 Grands Prix without a point rank him?
How many F1 drivers have had one win, but done it at their home Grand Prix?