Classic Match: Brave 1977 Lions down New Zealand

Six years after The British & Irish Lions created history with a famous first series win in New Zealand, captain John Dawes returned to the Land of the Long White Cloud with the aim of repeating history. [more]

Six years after The British & Irish Lions created history with a famous first series win in New Zealand, captain John Dawes returned to the Land of the Long White Cloud with the aim of repeating history.

Now coach, Dawes and his 1977 team came up against an All Blacks side hell-bent on revenge, and so ensued a thrilling Test series.

The second Test epitomised everything a Lions clash is about; passion, desire, resilience and it culminated in a tense and nervy finish.

For the Lions, victory was crucial after a narrow first Test defeat and they arrived in Christchurch determined to set the record straight.

After a hard-fought 16-12 defeat to the All Blacks in the first Test three weeks prior, Dawes opted to make several changes to his side as they aimed to level the series in Christchurch.

Welsh winger Gareth Evans came in for Peter Squires in the only change amongst the backs, but Dawes rotated his forwards after a fierce Test in Wellington.

Ian Kirkpatrick and Billy Bush in action.

Fran Cotton replaced Phillip Orr at loose head prop, while there was a fresh second row as Bill Beaumont and Gordon Brown came in for Allan Martin and Moss Keane.

Derek Quinnell, father of future Lion Scott, also started as he replaced fellow Welshman Trefor Evans at flanker.

New Zealand 9-13 The British & Irish Lions

The heavy Lions pack that Dawes assembled was instructed to go out and dominate the set-piece – and on a windy, wet and muddy day, they delivered.

Bryan Williams kept the All Blacks in touch throughout the contest with three expertly-taken penalties, but the Lions remained on top as inspirational captain Phil Bennett kicked three of his own.

The decisive moment came from winger JJ Williams, who scored a fine try to win the game.

From an All Black line-out, the Lions pounced – immediately gaining possession and charging forwards with pace and power.

The New Zealand defence could not cope with their speed at the breakdown as they recycled the ball quickly and efficiently, and when Williams received his eyes lit up as he feigned to pass before cutting in and diving over the line.

"The first time I played in a Test was the second Test and we had lost the first,” said hooker Peter Wheeler.

"There was a strong Welsh leadership, Phil Bennett was captain, John Dawes was coach and Terry Cobner was pack leader. So to get picked in the side ahead of Bobby Windsor was quite a challenge and a highlight for me.

"The Lions had never won a Test in Christchurch and never won the second Test in New Zealand. We had to win and we did. There was a good 12 to 14 hours after that. It was a good moment, pretty special."

What happened next?

Unfortunately, that famous second Test win was as good as it got for the Lions on the 1977 Tour, as New Zealand went on to secure a 3-1 victory.

In the third Test in Dunedin, tries from Ian Kirkpatrick and Andy Haden were enough to see the All Blacks take a 2-1 series lead with a 19-7 win.

And two weeks later, they wrapped it all up with a tight 10-9 win at Eden Park – denying the Lions a famous series draw thanks to Lawrie Knight’s try.

"I never underestimate New Zealand," Dawes later said. "It is a different level to Australia and South Africa. The commitment, the wanting to win and the hardness is far greater.

"If the Lions win the first Test you have a wounded All Blacks coming at you in the second Test but if they win the opening match you will then have a rampant All Blacks coming at you.

"There is no easy way, no short cuts. For every New Zealander, playing against the Lions is his own personal Test match.”

The tour ended in disappointment for the Lions as they lost 25-21 to Fiji in Suva – despite tries from Bennett, Beaumont and David Burcher.

However, for those that played, the Tour still brings back happy memories – and connects those that were there for a lifetime.

"You get to know someone really well," said Wheeler.

"You are rooming with them, you see them on the pitch when tackles have to be made, you can see the raw emotion. It makes for very special relationships.

"You may not have seen them for 20 years, but as soon as you meet up it's as if you have never been apart, because you know each other so well."

New Zealand 9 Penalty: Williams (3)

The British & Irish Lions 13 Try: JJ Williams Pen: Bennett (3)

New Zealand: Colin Farrell, Bryan Williams, Bill Osborne, Lyn Jaffray, Mark Taylor, Doug Bruce, Sid Going, Brad Johnstone, Tane Norton, Billy Bush, Andy Haden, Frank Oliver, Kevin Eveleigh, Ian Kirkpatrick, Lawrie Knight.

The British & Irish Lions: Andy Irvine, J. J. Williams, Steve Fenwick, Ian McGeechan, Gareth Evans, Phil Bennett (c), Brynmor Williams, Fran Cotton, Peter Wheeler, Graham Price, Bill Beaumont, Gordon Brown, Terry Cobner, Derek Quinnell, Willie Duggan.

Referee: B Duffy

Attendance: 50,000

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The British & Irish Lions have ended a gruelling 10-game tour of New Zealand with a record of five wins, three losses and two draws.

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Tour Diary - Day 38

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Tour Diary - Day 27

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Tour Diary - Day 26

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Tour Diary - Day 24

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Tour Diary - Day 23

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Tour Diary - Day 22

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Tour Diary - Day 21

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Tour Diary - Day 20

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Tour Diary - Day 19

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Tour Diary - Day 18

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Tour Diary - Day 17

Tom Hamilton is in Rotorua ahead of the Lions clash against the Maori All Blacks.

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Tour Diary - Day 1 4

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Tour Diary - Day 13

Tom Hamilton is joined by Chris Jones to visit former All Black Andrew Hore's farm near Dunedin.

Tour Diary - Day 12

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Tour Diary - Day 11

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Tour Diary - Day 10

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Tour Diary - Day 9

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Tour Diary - Day 8

Tom Hamilton reports from Auckland after the tourists suffered their first defeat in New Zealand to the Blues.

Tour Diary - Day 7

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Tour Diary - Day 6

Tom Hamilton reports from New Zealand as the Lions prepare to face the Blues.

Tour Diary - Day 5

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Tour Diary - Day 4

Tom Hamilton reports from Whangarei, where the Lions snuck past the NZ Provincial Barbarians.

Tour Diary - Day 3

Tom Hamilton reports from a wet and windy Whangarei ahead of the Lions' opening match of their tour of New Zealand.

Tour Diary - Day 2

Having been mistaken for a possible Lion, ESPN's Tom Hamilton wonders whether the tourists are being underestimated in New Zealand.

Tour Diary - Day 1

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Rewind: Previous Lions Tours

1904: The tourists who awoke the beast

The Lions from the start confronted issues which complicate their existence, and in some cases have persisted to this day. Not the least of their difficulties was raising a half-decent team. The time taken to travel to and from New Zealand in the age before air travel meant that the only players who could accept a tour invitation were those who could afford several months off work.

1908: An unmitigated shambles

The 1908 tour of New Zealand is something of an anomaly. The squad was described, correctly, at the time as an Anglo-Welsh team. It played in red shirts with white hoops and attempted to counter the haka with a 'war cry' consisting of the words "Rule Britannia, Cymru am Byth (both repeated three times) hip, hip, hurrah (also repeated three times)".

1930: The tour remembered most for its manager Bim Baxter

Some Lions tours are associated with particular players, often captains, in the way that the undefeated 1974 team in South Africa will for ever more be identified with Willie John McBride. With others it is coaches -- Carwyn James in 1971 or Clive Woodward in 2005. But the 1930 party which visited New Zealand is remembered most of all for its manager, the forthright James 'Bim' Baxter.

1950: The Lions who revitalised New Zealand rugby

The team of 1950 were the first modern Lions, recognisable except in the matter of playing 30 matches to the eyes of 2017. They adopted the red shirts which are now as synonymous with them as gold is with Australian rugby and Brazilian football, also late adopters. And they were much more representative than their predecessors of the strength of British and Irish rugby.

1959: 'Attacking, silly rugby' that won Kiwi hearts

No British & Irish Lions party can have departed with less reason to hope, but few have returned to greater acclaim than Ronnie Dawson's 1959 team. They did not win the Test series, but could claim to have got closer to beating New Zealand than any of their predecessors.

1966: 'Haphazard' Lions continue decade to forget

The 1966 Lions could have got everything right and still lost their Test series against the All Blacks. By ultimately they were the co-conspirators in their own downfall.

1971: The Lions that stand alone in history

The Lions team of 1971 stands out from the other 11 which have visited New Zealand by virtue of one fact -- they won.

1977: Injuries, intolerable hope & relations

Measured purely by results the 1977 British & Irish Lions were among the most successful visitors to New Zealand, winning one Test out of four and coming within minutes of sharing the series. But it certainly was not seen that way at the time. Few if any Lions teams have been quite such a disappointment.

1983: The tour that began in hope but ended in calamity

The 1983 Lions tour of New Zealand looks to modern eyes like a marathon, an 18-match expedition including four tests. But to contemporaries, not least the Lions management team of Willie John McBride and coach Jim Telfer, who had been team-mates on the 35-match trip to New Zealand, Australia and Canada in 1966, it looked more like a sprint.

1993: The tour of great missed opportunity

The 1993 British Lions tour to New Zealand, the first for a decade, the last by players who were still officially amateur and the first since 1908 with only three Tests rather than four, comes into the category of 'missed opportunities'. Like the squad who visited Australia four years earlier they went into the final Test with a chance to win the series, but they didn't.

2005: The tour that threatened the Lions' existence

The most recent British & Irish Lions trip to New Zealand is by definition the most vividly remembered, not least by those of us who were lucky enough to be there. Yet it was at the time a venture whose failure, with a comprehensive whitewashing in the tests, seemed to threaten the future of the Lions.

Fun & Games

The Lions XV to face the All Blacks voted by you

The Lions will name their first to face the All Blacks on Wednesday -- these are the players who ESPN's readers have voted will start on Saturday at Eden Park.

Pick your Lions XV

Who do you think should start the first Test against the All Blacks on June 24? Ranked the contenders to let us know.

5 Lions to watch

Which players will be crucial as the Lions attempt to secure a series win over the All Blacks?

Not-so-early predictions

Ahead of the first game of the tour against the NZ Provincial Barbarians, we asked our experts to look into their crystal balls.

Lions Tour tipping game

Earn bragging rights among your friends by predicting the winner of all 10 tour matches.


  1. History of rugby union matches between New Zealand and the

    In rugby union, New Zealand first played against the British & Irish Lions in 1904, beating them 9–3 at Athletic Park, Wellington. Since then, there has been a total of 41 Test matches between the two teams, with the All Blacks winning 30 matches, the Lions winning seven and four draws. The most recent test, held at Eden Park, Auckland, on 8 ...

  2. Classic Match: Brave 1977 Lions down New Zealand

    Unfortunately, that famous second Test win was as good as it got for the Lions on the 1977 Tour, as New Zealand went on to secure a 3-1 victory. In the third Test in Dunedin, tries from Ian Kirkpatrick and Andy Haden were enough to see the All Blacks take a 2-1 series lead with a 19-7 win. And two weeks later, they wrapped it all up with a ...

  3. Full coverage of the British & Irish Lions tour of New Zealand

    The British & Irish Lions have ended a gruelling 10-game tour of New Zealand with a record of five wins, three losses and two draws. ESPN has been there every step of the way. The three-Test ...

  4. 1977 British Lions tour to New Zealand

    4. 1. 0. 3. In 1977 the British Lions rugby union team toured New Zealand. The Lions played 26 matches, including four internationals against the All Blacks. They lost the series against the All Blacks by three matches to one. The team played as the British Isles in their internationals against the All Blacks and the British Lions for the non ...