Togetherness is vital for the British and Irish Lions

The legendary Wales stand-off Barry John in action during the First Test in Dunedin in 1971 
Photograph: Getty Images
The legendary Wales stand-off Barry John in action during the First Test in Dunedin in 1971 Photograph: Getty Images
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The British and Irish Lions are up against a nation in New Zealand, they must play like one to emerge victorious, Iain Morrison hears

The Lions leave for Auckland tomorrow, embarking on a gruelling tour which will reach a climax at Eden Park on 8 July with the third and final Test against the All Blacks.

The combined side have visited New Zealand 11 times but have enjoyed a Test series victory on just one occasion. Here four veteran tourists recall their highs and lows and offer some advice to the current generation of Lions.

IAN McLAUCHLAN

Played on the 1971 tour

Lions won series 2-1 (one Test drawn)

Highlight

I enjoyed the whole thing, but playing Test matches against New Zealand and then winning the series itself has to be the pinnacle. I was absolutely certain that we would win the second Test after beating them in the opening match but we were well beaten on the day. Perhaps we were a little bit overconfident.

The funny thing is that even after losing that second Test there was a great feeling within the whole squad that we would win the series which is how things turned out.

Low point

I honestly don’t think I can recall a low point of that tour.

Lessons for the class of 2017

As long as the squad stays together then I think they have a good chance of doing very well. They will come under all sorts of pressures in New Zealand and if they can withstand that and stick together then they will do well.

ROGER BAIRD

Player on the 1983 tour

New Zealand won series 4-0.

Highlight

My personal highlight was the win over Wellington who had a great team with players like Murray Mexted and Stu Wilson. It was a good game but we were trailing by two tries in the last 20 minutes and we won it. I couldn’t score for Scotland but I had no trouble scoring for anyone else. I got two tries that day and was heavily involved in the final one as well, so it was a good day. It was just before the first Test and we felt that we had got the tour back on track.

Low point

Probably the selection which they got wrong. There was an Irish bias, with Ciaran Fitzgerald captain and Willie John McBride as manager and he hadn’t brought along a back’s coach! Jim Telfer had to do it and he was out of his comfort zone.

John Rutherford was the best fly-half in the world at the time but Ollie Campbell played at ten and Colin Deans was a much better hooker than Ciaran Fitzgerald who should have dropped himself. Graham Price was getting on a bit whereas ‘the Bear’ [Scotland’s Iain Milne] was in his prime and Jim Calder was unlucky not to get picked. Clive Woodard didn’t get a look in either!

Lessons for the class of 2017

The first thing to remember is that you will get a hostile reception from the press corps who will pick away at you from the moment you land. There is a concerted national effort to chip away at your confidence.

And you can’t over-emphasise the importance of winning that opening Test. Rob Ackerman had a two-on-one in the first Test and all he needed to do was to put Trevor Ringland away but he dummied and went himself and we lost by four points. In fact every Test was close until the last one when everyone was half way home already.

DAMIEN CRONIN

Played on the 1993 tour

New Zealand won series 2-1

Highlight

Just getting selected for that tour was a highlight on its own but after that, beating the Maoris after we were losing at half time, a game I played, was my highlight. We should have won that tour because in the first Test New Zealand got a penalty that was never a penalty, I suspect that they think the same thing. Grant Fox kicked the points and the history books will tell you who won.

Low point

There wasn’t really a low point for me. I enjoyed that tour even if I wasn’t at my best. Had Jim Telfer been forwards coach instead of Dick Best I think I would have been a very different character on tour since I had a respect for Jim who was always a disciplinarian. I like Besty as a bloke but I don’t think he was the coach who could get the best out of me.

Lessons for the class of 2017

The biggest lesson I can pass on is that this squad has to arrive in New Zealand as one, totally unified, no animosity or splits by nation. If you are selected good, if you are not selected then you have to get behind the players who are, which is where I let myself down in 1993. I think that this squad has been under-rated and I think that northern hemisphere rugby has been too, so I back the Lions to win the series 2-1.

GAVIN SCOTT

Video analyst on the 2005 tour New Zealand won series 3-0

Highlight

It was a tough tour so highlights may be hard to find. I think probably just the coming together of these players who only recently had faced each other in the Six Nations and now had to try to win a Test series in New Zealand.

I felt that it was a real honour to be a part of such a venture.

Having been in New Zealand for the World Cup in 2011 I got the impression that a Lions tour is even bigger because it only comes around once every 12 years. You can be the best player in one position for ten years and still miss out on playing against the Lions!

Low point

I suppose losing the second Test which meant that we couldn’t win the series. But also the injuries which people tend to forget about.

We lost Simon Taylor and Lawrence Dallaglio, both No.8s, in one week and then Richard Hill a little later.

And the antagonism that emerged between the two different camps, that was a low point, it was a different level of professionalism.”

Lessons for the class of 2017

I think if I was leading the Lions I would pick my best XV for the Saturday matches and play them right through because time together on the field is far more important than keeping your team secret from the opposition.

You can adjust it as needs be as injuries occur or heroes emerge from the Wednesday squad.