Were the 1971 British and Irish Lions touring team to New Zealand a better side than the 2015 Rugby World Cup-winning All Blacks? And what do we mean by ‘better’?

The Lions were a much more brilliant, inventive side than the 2015 All Blacks. They were superbly led by coach Carwyn James and captain John Dawes, both Welshmen who also dominated the touring party. It was a golden era for the Welsh, who won the Five Nations and produced many scintillating backs and courageous forwards.

The Lions took on a daunting tour with 26 matches spread over 14 weeks and confirmed their unique status as the only international team chosen exclusively to play away from home.

Carwyn James was a quiet, philosophical coach who instilled in his players the self-belief that they could beat the All Blacks on their home turf.

“On previous tours we hoped we would win,” said Willie John McBride. “This time we believed.”

The Lions finished the tour with an unbeaten provincial campaign, including the infamous match against the Canterbury side. It will depend on whose side you are on as to who was to blame for the thuggery in the game.

Tane Norton, the Canterbury hooker, said, “The Lions blamed us, we blamed the Lions”.

Gerald Davies, the Welsh winger, described it as “the most violent game” he had ever seen.

Alex ‘Grizz’ Wyllie said, “It was just a bit of biff and the game wasn’t as bad as portrayed”.

I would suggest that if the opposition lie over the ball on the All Blacks side, then they will be handed out some All Blacks justice. Rucking the ball is allowed, but it can easily cross over to stamping and trampling. Ask JPR Williams.

The All Blacks had previously lost their series against South Africa in 1970 and tactically were naive in thinking their staid game plan would beat the Lions. Carwyn James figured that individual talent could beat a well-drilled game plan.

“From the age of six they played the same pattern, rigid and predictable,” he said. “It produced winning rugby, so why should they change?

“They love the perspiration but are not all that impressed by the inspiration.”

Maybe the All Blacks watched the Lions on tour and thought they too could play 15-man rugby.

The British and Irish Lions were 2-1 in the series going into the final match at Eden Park, which I was fortunate enough to witness. An All Blacks win was needed to draw the series, but this was undone by a brilliant 45-metre drop goal by the legendary fullback JPR Williams. It gave the Lions a 14-11 lead, which was followed by an All Blacks penalty that drew the match but wasn’t enough to draw the series.

When you have every player in a squad who is contributing towards a common goal the result is often a positive one. This coaching philosophy applied to the Lions. All players need to have responsibilities and need to feel important, thus giving them confidence. It can only bring out the best in everyone. We are seeing it today with the coaching of Brendon McCullum with the English cricket team. Trusted players are better players.

One interesting point to come out after the tour is that the Lions gave positive feedback about Colin Meads to keep him in the Test team even though he was suffering from a rib injury during the series, therefore making him a potential weakness.

The Lions also went to South Africa in 1974 on a winning tour, confirming their legendary status.

So now to the two teams, the 2015 All Blacks versus the 1971 British and Irish Lions:

JPR Williams vs Ben Smith: On the legend meter, JPR is ahead, so we must go with him. That’s 1-0 to the Lions.

(Photo by PA Images via Getty Images)

Gerald Davies vs Nehe Milner-Skudder: Davies was electrifying and wins this. Lions 2-0.

David Duckham vs Julian Savea: If you want to see some of the best side-stepping in rugby, watch Duckham in the 1972 Barbarians match against All Blacks. He’s one of my favourite players. Sorry. Julian. Lions, 3-0.

John Dawes vs Conrad Smith: Dawes was an impressive leader, but as a player Conrad gets this. Lions, 3-1.

Mike Gibson vs Ma’a Nonu: Gibson was a classy, stable player, but for sheer power it’s Nonu. Lions, 3-2.

Barry John vs Dan Carter: Can I leave the room? This is just too close to call! I have put on a bulletproof vest for the incoming flak. I know Carter never played on a long tour like John, so Barry is at an advantage there. You just had to be there to see Barry John play, he was absolutely infuriating, he was that good. Innovative too, with the round-the-corner goalkicking style not seen in New Zealand, and he was try-scorer and magnificent punter. Yes, I am going with Barry John. Lions, 4-2.

Gareth Edwards vs Aaron Smith: There are legends and there are legends. Talk to many and they will say Smith is a legend. Will he be thought of as Edwards is? I do not think so. Another very tough call. Getting older is making me appreciate the finer things in life. Edwards wins. Lions, 5-2.

Mervyn Davies vs Kieran Read: It is getting harder! My recollection of Davies is not that strong, I know he was a helluva player though, but Read just pips him. Lions, 5-3.

Derek Quinnell vs Jerome Kaino: Two hard men! And this is a hard call too, but Jerome by a nose. Lions, 5-4.

Fergus Slattery vs Richie McCaw: I liked Slattery as a player, but he is up against a legend. It’s five all!

Richie McCaw

(Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

Willie John McBride vs Sam Whitelock: And you thought Carter versus John was hard! These are two magnificent players who would be fully deserving of this. Will today’s players be remembered in 50 years in the way players like McBride will be remembered? I have this feeling they will not. But Whitelock by a short head! All Blacks, 6-5.

Gordon Brown vs Brodie Retallick: Like I said, it is getting harder! Brown is acknowledged as one of the all-time greats of Lions rugby, having gone on three Lions tours. It’s awfully close, but I’ll pick Retallick because I am Kiwi born! All Blacks, 7-5.

Sean Lynch vs Owen Franks: Lynch and Ian ‘Mighty Mouse’ McLauchlan were drafted in after first-choice props Sandy Carmichael and Ray McLoughlin were injured and sent home. I must give this to Franks. All Blacks, 8-5.

Ray McLoughlin vs Joe Moody: It’s the All Blacks, 9-5.

John Pullin vs Dane Coles: It’s Dane Coles because I am not a hooking expert! It’s 10-5 to the 2015 All Blacks.

Well, there you have it, individual versus individual, a win to the 2015 All Blacks. The Lions backs were superior and the All Blacks forwards were dominant – isn’t that always the case? That Lions backline was brilliant, led by the indomitable Barry John, known as the King while in New Zealand.

Who would win this match? Who cares, just appreciate two of the best rugby teams in the history of the sport.

One thought: the Lions were still dominant in 1974. Where were the All Blacks in 2019?

Who do you rate as the best?

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