British and Irish Lions
June 29, 2022 9:17 a.m.
Reading time: 3 minutes
The British and Irish Lions made history on their 1971 tour by securing a series victory over New Zealand – and David Duckham was an unsung hero of the triumph.
Duckham was called up for tourists just two years after forcing his way into the England side at centre, making his international debut for his country against Ireland in 1969.
He then made 17 appearances for the Lions in Australia and New Zealand, making the final three Tests of the Tour as the men in red picked up a first-ever series win over the All Blacks.
His debut for the Lions came in the Tour opener, a 15-11 loss to Queensland, before also playing on the wing in wins over New South Wales and King Country-Wanganui.
Duckham’s first points came against South Canterbury-Mid Canterbury-North Otago, crossing the white for a try after being selected at inside center in the comfortable 25-6 win.
But Duckham really caught the eye against West Coast-Buller, running in six tries for a 24-point individual run in a dominating 39-6 success as he raised his hand for Test selection.
Duckham said: “Oddly enough, I wasn’t even originally selected to play and only arrived after first-choice winger, my very good friend John Spencer, took knocks at the prior.
“All six tries were scored wide and, remarkably, Bob Hiller converted them all.”
While Duckham ultimately sat out the first Test 10 days later, which the Lions won 9-3, he started the last three games against New Zealand on the wing in a formidable backline.
The Lions lost the second Test 22-12 as the All Blacks tied the series, but Duckham was at the heart of what turned out to be a decisive Game 3 win in Wellington.
Classic match: Edwards and John team up in style for the 1971 Lions
In fact, Duckham explained that the result of the second test didn’t matter for one of the most confident sides to ever face the All Blacks, insisting the Lions always back each other up.
He explained: “At that point, after two tests, we had the measure of it, we knew we could get at least parity with our own forward line and we could make a difference through the backs.”
With the magical Welsh half-back duo of Gareth Edwards and Barry John in defence, the Lions took an early lead in the third Test before the tourists delivered the decisive blow.
Duckham recalled: “We had a lineout down the right, where we would have run the ball left.
“But the idea was to throw the ball to Mervyn Davies, our No 8, who would just pass the ball to Gareth (Edwards) running at full speed, straight at their half-backs.
“Gareth just ran straight, went down the back of our lineup and had Barry John on his shoulder. The first defenseman, Bob Burgess, was given up.
“There is a beautiful image where you see both of Burgess’ feet on the ground, there was so much strength. Only their full-back remained.
“Edwards and John had a two-on-one and we were under the posts. The All Blacks didn’t know what was hitting them, for me that was the turning point of the whole series.
“For us it was decisive, we won 13-3 and we couldn’t lose the series anymore and a Lions team had never had that in New Zealand.”
The Lions converted that lead into a famous first – and so far, only – series win in New Zealand as Duckham also started the final test, which ended in a 14-14 draw exciting.
Duckham concluded the Tour with a total of 11 tries and 44 points, having contributed strongly to one of the most iconic victories in the series, forever etching his name in Lions folklore.