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Thursday, 19 September, 2002, 14:38 GMT 15:38 UK
Snaring the Springboks
Bobby Windsor feeds Gareth Edwards in the Cape Town Test
Millar rates the 1974 first Test win his most satisfying

In the second part of BBC Sport Online's interview with Syd Millar, the Lions legend relives the highs and lows of a touring career that spans four decades.


South African rugby has rarely been short of self-confidence, but as the 1974 Lions arrived in the Cape the Boks' bullishness appeared well-placed.

The tourists had never won a series in the Republic and had managed only two draws in their previous eight Tests there.

The Springboks had also won their last three series against Australia and New Zealand and expected to confirm world number one status against the best of the British Isles.

Had they paused to examine the credentials of the man masterminding the tourists' mission, they might have trodden more warily.

Instead, the Boks were swallowed almost whole by the Lion trap set for them by coach Syd Millar.

The Lions won the series 3-0 and recorded 21 victories and a draw in their 22 matches.

Only a controversial refereeing decision allowed South Africa to escape the ultimate humiliation of a first-ever whitewash with a draw in the final Test.

Millar, who toured in 1959, '62 and '68, rates the joy of playing in the free-running '59 side as the highlight of his own days in the red jersey.

But the heroics of 1974 stand out as the peak of his coaching career.

"That team had maybe the best pack of forwards the Lions had ever fielded," he says.

"They had maybe not quite the talent of the '59 or '71 sides, but they made up for that in their sheer determination and discipline."

That discipline proved the key to victory in two ways.

The Lions needed to keep their heads against the provocation of the most physical brand of rugby they had ever faced.

And they had to maintain sufficient cool to implement the tactics their coach had dictated would win the series.

To Millar's delight, they succeeded on both counts.


The '74 team had maybe the best pack of forwards the Lions had ever fielded
Syd Millar

"They kept their discipline, they stuck to the match plan, they pressurised the Springboks where we had decided to pressurise them," he recalls.

"Those things went off particularly well and the first Test in Cape Town, which laid the foundations for success in the series, still stands out for me.

"I felt quite sure after that that we would win the series. It wasn't necessarily a memorable Test but it was a very significant one."

The Lions set the tone in Cape Town by attacking the Boks at their perceived point of strength - in the pack - and then producing quick, clean ball for their own backs to strike.

That it worked was not just a tribute to the might of the tourists' eight, but also to the meticulous planning of their coach.

Millar tapped a network of ex-pats for information about South Africa before the party left and the management's end of tour report rated the squad the best prepared ever.

The Ballymena businessman even subjected his players to pre-tour blood tests, which revealed several as suffering from anaemia.

Syd Millar has been a player, coach, manager and chairman of the Lions
Millar holds a unique place in Lions lore
Millar was then able to have them treated before they reached the high altitudes at which a shortage of red blood cells would see them struggle in the rarefied air.

His meticulous approach came from his first hand experience of what happened on tours where everything was left to chance.

On his first two playing expeditions, the current Lions chairman faced highly-coached All Black and Springbok sides with a team that had been left to its own devices.

"The New Zealanders and South Africans just could not understand why we were lacking a coach," he says.

"Once we got ourselves organised, we competed so much better.

"That started in 1968, then in '71 we won the series in New Zealand, in '74 we won the series in South Africa, in '77 we should have won the series in New Zealand and perhaps should have drawn in South Africa in 1980.

"So there is a decade there where having had the Lions organised, suddenly we were winning.


Once we got ourselves organised, we competed so much better
Syd Millar

"We co-ordinated the talent in those teams and perhaps earlier teams suffered from not having a coach and therefore not having the talent in the team identified and co-ordinated.

"South Africa and New Zealand had a long history of coaching and were certainly better organised than we were on the field."

Millar takes his satisfaction from the Lions' achievements once they accepted the need for proper preparation.

But a sense of what they missed in the freewheeling earlier years continues to nag at him.

"The disappointments actually register more than the triumphs," he says. "You think more about what could have been.

"The '59 side had a magnificent backline, only equalled by the '71 side, and we scored four tries in the first Test, only to be beaten by six penalties from Don Clarke.

"So we could and should have beaten the All Blacks in '59 and we could have at least shared the series in South Africa in '62.

"But that's life and you have to learn from it."

As the 1974 Springboks can testify, Syd Millar certainly did.

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Syd Millar
"Discipline the key in '74"

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