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Great moments in Lions tour history: When the All Blacks were so boring the locals supported the visitors

By Jamie Wall
1959 All Blacks vs Lions

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Jamie Wall takes us back to the upside-down world of 1959 when a freewheeling try-scoring Lions side met a conservative kick-happy All Blacks in Dunedin.

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There is an irony in the dour 2017 edition Lions being in Dunedin to play the Highlanders on Tuesday. Fresh from a bruising, unexpected but otherwise pretty boring win (depending on which part of the world you’re from) over the previously unbeaten Crusaders, they now find themselves in a city where the old reputation of the freewheeling, entertaining Lions was born.

It was the first test of the 1959 series that saw the tourists score twice as many tris as the 2017 side have managed on the whole tour so far. But they still didn’t win, despite the fact that the All Blacks didn’t manage to cross their line once.

The All Blacks got home off the boot of legendary fullback Don Clarke, who kicked six penalties for an 18-17 win – back in those day tries were only worth three points.

Another thing worth bearing in mind is that the referees back in those days weren’t brought in from overseas. The man in charge that day wasn’t just a kiwi though – Alan Fleury was a Dunedin local controlling a game in front of many people who knew him personally.

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The four tries he awarded were highly entertaining. Welshman Malcolm Price bagged a double, Englishman Peter Jackson and Irishman Tony O’Reilly got one each.

It was all set up to be a triumph of running rugby over the dour, kick-happy game of the All Blacks. Except Clarke was nailing his shots from everywhere, most importantly the one that gave the All Blacks the lead with two minutes to go.

It’s worth mentioning that the stats indicate that Fleury gave out a whopping 20 penalties to each side that day – half that number would be considered a whistle-happy performance in this day and age. It’s not his fault that the tourists couldn’t kick their goals.

However, it meant little to the Dunedin crowd. They turned on him and the All Blacks for what they perceived to be an unfair result. Legend has it they were chanting ‘red, red, red!’ as the clock ticked down and booed when Clarke’s winner went over.

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Yes, that seems a little unbelievable given what rugby is like now. The All Blacks being so boring their own crowd wanted the other team to win? The British being the bastion of entertaining, enterprising rugby? A ref who could have probably walked back to his house after the game?

Saturday night’s result that saw the tourists grind down the Crusaders is probably proof enough that this year’s Lions aren’t going to flick a switch and try and emulate their 1959 counterparts. Especially considering Dunedin hasn’t been the most hospitable city results-wise for them – in addition to the test in 1959, the Lions were thrashed 26-8 by Otago in the midweek game.

Since then they’ve lost twice more to the local side, including another hiding in 1993. However, they did claim a famous first test win at the old Carisbrook ground on the victorious 1971 tour.

There’s no test at the impressive new Forsyth Barr Stadium on this tour, much to the consternation of the locals. However the way the Lions are playing so far, it’s highly unlikely that if there was the crowd would be switching their allegiance during the game like their grandparents did back in 1959.

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