A PENARTH journalist with a passion for rugby has written his first book revealing the controversial story behind the undefeated British Lions tour of South Africa in 1974.
In ‘Undefeated - The Story of the 1974 Lions’ Rhodri Davies explores how the players travelled to the southern hemisphere during the height of apartheid against the wishes of their own government, how they went through more than two months and 22 matches unbeaten, and the question of whether the Class of 1974 were the greatest British Lions team ever.
Rhodri Davies, an award-winning broadcaster and journalist who has worked for the BBC, ITV and S4C, said: “I was inspired to write the book having produced and presented a television documentary for S4C in 2011 celebrating the achievement of the earlier 1971 Lions in New Zealand.
“Their historic and iconic series win was rightly lauded on its 40th anniversary, but it started me thinking about the subsequent tour – the 1974 Lions venture to South Africa – which if anything surpassed the feats of the 1971 vintage. Yet that tour has never been celebrated to the same extent. My question was why?
“Undefeated addresses that question, and also gives the 1974 Lions their rightful due – as arguably the greatest Lions ever. Other than two books published in the immediate aftermath of the tour, very little has been written about the 1974 Lions’ achievement over the past 40 years.”
He interviewed the likes of tour captain Willie John McBride, Andy Irvine (who managed the 2013 Lions to a series win in Australia), Fran Cotton (who also went on to manage a successful Lions tour in 1997) and a number of all-time greats, such as Gareth Edwards, Phil Bennett and JPR Williams.
He said that interviewing the players gave him a unique insight into the tour.
“They say that you should never meet your heroes, but I have met all of mine and they have surpassed my expectations,” he said.
“Forty years down the line it gives you a different perspective from 40 years of hindsight.
“Peter Hain still condemns them to this day and their morality for going and playing against non-white teams.”
He added that he also tackled the question of whether the 1974 team were the greatest British Lions ever.
"My job as a journalist is to give people the platform to form their opinions and look at the rights and wrongs of the things that I write, and were they the greatest lions ever," he said.
“I spoke to a number of players from both tours of 1971 and 1974 and the general consensus was if you want to know the greatest team look at the record books.
“They went through 22 matches played and didn’t lose a single one.
“Nobody has ever done it before and nobody will ever do it again and in that regard there is no doubt they are the greatest, but there is no right or wrong answer.”
'Undefeated - The Story of the 1974 Lions', published by Y Lolfa, was launched at Culloden Hotel in Belfast during a 1974 Lions 40th anniversary Gala Dinner last month. The book is set for its official Welsh launch at the Vale Hotel in Hensol during a reunion dinner for the 1974 British Lions team today, July 16.