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Page last updated at 11:39 GMT, Tuesday, 19 May 2009 12:39 UK

Lions legends ponder South Africa

Fran Cotton (far left) on the 1977 Lions tour to New Zealand
Fran Cotton (far left) was pictured in one of the truly iconic Lions moments

By Sean Davies

As the 2009 Lions tourists prepare to hit South Africa, two legends of the British and Irish side say that reputations are there to be made and broken.

While talk revolves around team bonding and selection, former England prop Fran Cotton says to expect the unexpected.

"The key to gelling is to give everyone a chance to show what they can do, [Lions coach] Ian McGeechan will be across that," said the former Coventry and Sale prop, 61.

"All the squad will want to play in the Tests, if they only get half a game before the first match they won't feel that they've had a chance.

Lions legend Cotton relishes 2009

"Then it's down to form on tour. Everyone's achieved a certain level of form to get on tour, but it can all change when they get out there."

Quinnell, a member of the great Lions squad that toured New Zealand in 1971, was on the selection panel in 1997.

"The guys who played that first Test were not the players we envisaged coming through before the start of the tour," said the Llanelli man, who turns 60 on Friday.

"People like Tom Smith, Paul Wallace and Jeremy Davidson came through, they certainly wouldn't have been first choices when the original squad was selected.

Cotton's Lions record
1974 (South Africa)
1977 (New Zealand)
1980 (South Africa)
1997 (South Africa, manager)

"When we got to the provincial games and implemented the way the coaches wanted to play the game they proved that they were the best guys to put the jersey on in the Tests, and they did exceptionally well.

"Everyone will be out to lower the [2009] Lions colours in the regional games before the Test series, but that first Test is the real challenge and will be so important to the outcome."

McGeechan was also the coach of the 1997 Lions, and Cotton says he can see a strategy behind this year's squad picks.

"I was very impressed with the selection, it was well thought through," said Cotton, a former England captain who played 31 times for his country.

Interview: Wales and Lions great Derek Quinnell

"There were a few surprises, people like Alan Quinlan - you can see there was a real game plan.

"The likes of [2009 manager] Gerald Davies and Ian McGeechan are people with outstanding knowledge and a stature you have to respect.

"[After England's strong finish to the Six Nations] Tom Croft, Delon Armitage, maybe Mark Cueto could have been close, but it's one of those things.

"They have to stay fit and active. On average the Lions lose seven players injured, things change quickly."

Quinnell's Lions record
1971 (New Zealand & Australia)
1977 (New Zealand)
1980 (South Africa)
1997 (South Africa, on selection panel)

Cotton knows exactly the sort of spirit it takes to beat the Springboks.

After going unbeaten against South Africa on tour with England in 1972 he repeated the experience with the "invincible" 1974 Lions, while illness forced him off the 1980 tour before his side had lost a game.

"It's a proud record, but [I know] they're tough to beat in South Africa," said Cotton.

"I remember the third Test in 1974. There'd been the odd fracas all series although the '99 call [where all Lions players are said to have struck their opposite number whenever the call was given] was a bit of a myth.

"There was just a tremendous team spirit and if the opposition touched any one of our players all 15 would look after him.

Rugby Union Blog
Bryn Palmer

"The guy overtaking us [forwards] to get at the opposition in that third Test was JPR Williams from full-back!

"He hit the Springboks' hard-man lock Moaner Van Heerden, and there's a great shot of him stood over him like a prize fighter.

"That typified for me JPR's massive commitment and also the team spirit in the entire side."

Whoever gets the chance in South Africa in 2009, Cotton and Quinnell say it will be the experience of their lives.

"The Lions seem to get bigger as each tour goes on, there's huge interest in Britain and Ireland, massive interest in South Africa," said Cotton.

Quinnell added: "It's a terrific experience. Being a young 21-year-old selected to go on a Lions tour was fantastic.

"It probably spoilt the rest of my rugby career because it was hard to top being part of a winning Lions Test team in New Zealand.

"There were so many good times, with the camaraderie between the Irish, Scottish, English and Welsh.

"I made friends who have stayed with me for life. It was a great experience - I hope that this year's tourists thoroughly enjoy it."



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see also
History of the Lions
02 May 08 |  Rugby Union
2009 Lions: Squad & results
09 Jul 09 |  Rugby Union
All Blacks magic: New Zealand rugby
21 Oct 08 |  Rugby Union
Mighty Boks: South African rugby
01 Oct 08 |  Rugby Union
Wallaby wonders: Aussie rugby
21 Oct 08 |  Rugby Union
Scrum V's rugby history
11 Aug 07 |  Welsh


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