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Willie John McBride Article



Willie John McBride MBE

Born in County Antrim, Ulster, on 6th June 1940, Willie John McBride played 63 times for Ireland, captaining his country twelve times between 1962-1975. McBride is most noted for his achievements with the British and Irish Lions, whom he played for in 17 Test matches, a record unlikely ever to be matched. He was a part of the first (and only) Lions team ever to win a Test series in New Zealand in 1971, and three years later, captained the Lions on their undefeated tour of South Africa (22 games) amid political unrest both at home and abroad. The 1971/74 Lions are the only Lions tour party ever to win back to back Test series.

Perhaps McBride’s most notorious contribution to the game was the infamous ’99 call’ during the 1974 Lions tour, in which the entire team, fully aware of the likelihood of foul play by the South African teams (in games refereed by South Africans), would, on hearing the call, punch the nearest opposing players. Though only used a handful of times, the ’99 call’ has imbedded itself in rugby history as a symbol of a team, as close as brothers, who would not be pushed around.

McBride epitomises a time when the true spirit of rugby truly shone through. Throughout the Northern Ireland Troubles, he was a prime target for the IRA as a prominent Ulsterman working in a British bank, but never let anything stand between him and the game he loved. Whether as a Protestant Ulsterman in a predominantly Catholic, Dublin-based Irish team, or as a Lion in a racially divided South Africa, McBride showed throughout his career how rugby continually rises above issues of social class, creed or colour.

Whether unwittingly punching All Blacks legend Colin Meads in one of his earliest internationals, or scoring his first international try in his final match for Ireland at Lansdowne road, whether in the white of Ulster, the green of Ireland or the red of the Lions, Willie John McBride is a true rugby great. In 2004, he was awarded with the ***le ‘Heineken Rugby Personality of the Century’ by Rugby World magazine. An undoubted Hall of Fame member is ever there was one.

Willie John: The Story of my Life

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