Part one of the series started with the back three and the head coach before the centres were selected. Now it is turn of the half-backs. Come back on Thursday for the back row and on Friday for the front five.
Disagree with Mick’s selections? Leave a comment to let us know who you would have picked and why.
10 – Barry John
(Wales, 5 Lions caps, 1968, 1971)
As with Brian O’Driscoll and Jerry Guscott, so with Barry John and Phil Bennett, you opt for one over the other, write 300 words to fit the brief only to immediately change your mind. There are other No 10s worthy of consideration, be it Cliff Morgan in the 50s, Ireland’s Jackie Kyle before him or another from those parts, Ollie Campbell, while Jonny Wilkinson merits claim in any company. But The King it is, Barry John, a friend and soul-mate of George Best, kindred spirits in the vision as well as balance and nerve of their play. As Best would weave through a defence with the ball seemingly tied to his bootlaces so would John ghost through a defence as if the gap were obvious to all mankind and the invitation to pass through unmolested the easiest of manoeuvres.
John was targeted on the ’68 tour to South Africa, his tour cut short when his collar-bone was broken in a thunderous collision in the first test. John was not to be beaten, though, and by investing so much faith in his ability to succeed, coach Carwyn James concurred when and where it mattered most, out on the field of play where he was quickly to earn his soubriquet, The King. There was not a fault to be found in his game on that jaw-dropping tour to New Zealand in ’71 when the Lions changed the whole mindset of the Kiwi nation with the all-round excellence of their play, particularly in attack. John was the lynchpin: a magician with ball in hand, without fear when it came to expressing himself. But the boy from Cefneithin, at one with James his mentor from an early age, a musing West Walian, was also fully equipped to deal with all aspects of play. His kicking, from hand and at goal, was nigh on flawless as his haul of 188 points, a record for a British player on an overseas tour, illustrates. Even the New Zealanders were acclaiming The King by the end.
Barry John in action for the Lions against the All Blacks in 1971
Credit: GETTY IMAGES
9 – Gareth Edwards
(Wales, 10 Lions caps, 1968, 1971, 1974)
No contest. Scrum-half is the only position where it is a waste of any selector’s time to run the rule over possible alternatives of which there ought to be many given that the Lions is the best of the best from four countries and spanning several decades. Dickie Jeeps from the 50s? Robert Jones and his sneaky, pre-meditated little stamp on Nick Farr-Jones that triggered the Lions fightback against the Wallabies in 1989? The Matt Dawson show-and-go show at Newlands in 1997? Conor Murray? Ben Youngs? Sorry, none of them come within a decent spin pass of the peerless Edwards, the most complete player of any generation let alone just as a scrum-half.
Edwards’ potential for greatness was evident from a young age. Spotted by Bill Samuel, who was to become a lifelong mentor, Edwards was an all-rounder, first at Pontardawe Grammar Technical School and then at Millfield School where his records in various track and field events were to stand for many years. Edwards was also an accomplished gymnast and Samuel made sure that the youngster used this multi-layered physical nurturing to good effect out on the rugby field. It was on Samuel’s prompting that Edwards settled on scrum-half even though he would have excelled at almost any position in the back-line, perhaps at flanker, too. Even though he was so naturally talent, Edwards was also a good student of the game, developing the spin pass after watching All Black, Chris Laidlaw. His kicking game also needed nurturing and broadening. Of course, it was Edwards’s partnership with Barry John that came to define the pair of them. ‘How do you want the ball?” asked Edwards of John on first meeting. “You throw it and I’ll catch it,” came the reply. That alliance was enough to do for the All Blacks in 1971 and then along came Phil Bennett to help achieve similar feats against the Springboks in 1974. Edwards was a constant, and without equal.