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When Lions Roared: The Lions, the All Blacks and the legendary tour of 1971 By Tom English & Peter Burns

Release date: 15th May, 2017
Publisher: Arena Sport

List Price: £19.99
Our Price: £17.99
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On Saturday 3rd June, the British & Irish Lions will face the Provincial XV in the opening match of their 2017 tour of New Zealand. They have half a dozen games before the first Test on 24th June; the tour concludes on 8th July.

Playing New Zealand at rugby is perhaps sport’s most difficult assignment. It’s intense, pressured and can be enormously intimidating; the All Blacks are the reigning world champions, while their coach, Steve Hansen, has won 91% of his games in charge (62 victories in 68 matches). The phrase ‘daunting task’ doesn’t really do the Lions’ mission justice.

As soon as the Lions landed in New Zealand last week, the ‘war of words’ began with Hansen suggesting that all the pressure is on the visitors because of the scale of their travelling support, usefully omitting the fact that rugby is a national religion in the land of the long white cloud.

All good stuff, but as When Lions Roared reminds us, there’s nothing new under the sun.

In 1971, Carwyn James’ side endured a twenty-four-match tour, including a four-Test series against the All Blacks, then, as now, the best side on the planet. No Lions team had ever defeated New Zealand in a Test series; since 1904, six had tried, but none had succeeded.

There are libraries filled with books telling the tale of the 1971 tour, but here, the authors use a series of conversations with Lions, New Zealanders and players from provincial sides to great effect, each drawing upon memories from that epic summer.

New Zealand were red-hot favourites to win the 1971 series 4-0. When the Lions put 25 points on County Thames-Valley in their opening foray, the media suggested that if they were any good, they’d have scored fifty. Gradually, however, the Lions’ momentum grew and with it, the admiration of both media and rugby-loving New Zealanders.

Messrs English and Burns weave players’ memories and contemporary reports into a captivating narrative that describes build-ups and matches in behind-the-scenes-style detail. By the time the tour ended, the Lions emerging as 2-1 victors (the final match ended 14-14), the Lions were lauded as greats; one newspaper ran a tour supplement honouring the tourists with the headline simply saying ‘Thank You’.

Extended (or too many) interviews with ex-players rarely succeed in a book format, but they work well in When Lions Roared, a well-written reminder of the scale of the task ahead of the 2017 Lions.


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