July 2 – 1966 Lions tour match v Taranaki

July 2 1966 was the 7th match of the Lions Tour and followed losses to Southland, Otago and Wellington in their previous Saturday games.

“Desperately keen to win a Saturday game, the tourists selected a strong team to oppose Taranaki. Ten of the Lions who played at New Plymouth were selected for the first test two weeks later. Taranaki looked a formidable team on paper. Eight of the side, Neil Wolfe, Ross Brown, John McCullough, Roger Urbahn, Alan Smith, Murray Wills, John Major and Brian Muller, had either played for New Zealand or were soon to become All Blacks, and seven had taken part in the 1966 national trials. There was no doubt in the tourists’ minds that they were facing tough opposition. The game was played in overcast conditions on a firm ground before 35,500 spectators, who saw a dull, slogging forward encounter. Neither side made much effort to open up the game, and while the Lions must have been pleased to win a Saturday game at last, they could hardly have been satisfied with their overall performance. However, their forward play was much improved, especially in the lineouts.

Two minutes after O’Dowda had kicked off, a scrum went down near the visitors’ line. Young received the ball and sent a pass to McFadyean, who failed to hold the ball and Hurley dived on it to score near the corner. Wilson soon equalised with a 50-yard penalty goal and the Lions took the lead after 14 minutes when the fullback goaled from 35 yards after Taranaki had been penalised for offside play at a scrum. Six minutes later O’Dowda evened the score with another penalty goal from a yard outside the Lions’ 25. The final points of the first half came when Murphy was caught offside two yards from his own line and O’Dowda kicked an easy goal to give Taranaki a halftime lead of 9-6. The second half had been in progress 16 minutes when Watkins sent a high kick towards the right touchline. The ball bounced well for McFadyean, who was tackled by Clarke but the Lions wing managed to dive across. With four minutes left the visitors launched one of their rare back attacks. The ball moved from one side of the field to the other until Gibson cut through, propped and went on to score. Wilson missed both conversions but the Lions had won, albeit by a slender 12-9 margin. Little was seen of the British backs, but Young had one of his better games, and Gibson showed marked ability when he did receive the ball. Bebb and McFadyean chased everything and looked dangerous at times. Murphy led his forwards well, and props Williams and Norris had the better of their opposites, allowing Laidlaw to take five tightheads to Major’s one. Hurley was the best of the home backs, with Wills, Coles and Smith standing out in the forwards.”

“The Visitors” R H Chester & N A C McMillan, Moa Publications, pub. 1990 p.412.