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Lions Tour 1974: the infamous '99' call

The likelihood that Lions head coach Ian McGeechan will appoint second row battler Paul O’Connell as his captain brings back memories of the famously bruising South Africa tour of 1974 and Willie John McBride’s infamous ‘99’ battle cry.

The likelihood that Lions head coach Ian McGeechan will appoint second row battler Paul O’Connell as his captain brings back memories of the famously bruising South Africa tour of 1974 and Willie John McBride’s infamous ‘99’ battle cry.

Then, the still amateur Lions embarked on what would become the bloodiest tour in Lions history, marred by violence and trouble in the days when players could operate without the glare of an intense media spotlight.

The Lions decided early on that the Springboks were dominating their opponents through intimidation and violence and decided to take them on at their own game.

Captain Willie John McBride, a veteran of four previous tours, decided that attack was the best defence. He decreed that if a cry of ‘99’ was heard then every Lion on the field should attack the nearest opponent - the logic being that the referee wouldn’t be able to send off the entire team.

The battle that erupted following the call has since been immortalised as the Battle of Boet Erasmus, and saw almost every player involved in brutal fights with the huge South Africans. Legendary full-back J.P.R. Williams famously ran across the pitch to launch himself at Johannes van Heerden.

In another incident on the tour, McBride decided he needed to remove a one-eyed opponent who was dominating the line-out. The captain punched him so hard he was temporarily blinded in his remaining eye and had to be taken off.
 

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