This week, exactly 70 years ago, 13 Welshmen met up in London. They had packed some clothes and their boots in suitcases, said goodbye to their families, and now they were to sail to New Zealand to play rugby. They would be back in October. Rob Cole salutes the epic journey of the 1950 British and Irish Lions.
It will take the 2021 British & Irish Lions 11 hours to fly from London to Johannesburg when they embark on their next tour to South Africa.
They will stay for five weeks and play eight matches, including three Tests against the current Rugby World Cup holders.
That is all a bit different from the schedule that faced the 1950 Lions squad, which included 13 Welshmen.
Lewis Jones then joined them to make it 14 of the Grand Slam side from that season on the tour. They played 29 matches, including six Tests – four in New Zealand and two in Australia. They also played an extra game in Ceylon on their way home.
The 30-man squad gathered at the Mayfair Hotel, London on Thursday, 30 March – just five days after Wales had beaten France to clinch the Grand Slam in Cardiff. There was still a full month of the domestic season to run.
The players were guests at the annual dinner of the New Zealand Society at the Savoy Hotel on their first night together and then travelled to Twickenham the next day to get kitted out and photographed.
As well as playing kit, they were issued with a tour blazer and tie, but had to provide their own trousers. They were also forbidden to swap playing jerseys.
They left Euston Station for Liverpool on the morning on 1 April, where the boarded SS Ceramic 2. Ahead of them was four weeks at sea as they headed to New Zealand.
They kicked-off with a six course, gourmet dinner, but then hit choppy waters and were hit by the ravages of sea-sickness. All that is, except the Irishman Tom Clifford.
He vowed to eat his way through the whole menu on the Sunday night. He just about managed it, getting through the following:
Hors d’Ouvres (various)
Creme de Tomato
Fillets of Tartare
Sweetcorn en Corotte
Lamb Cutlets Parisienne
Braised York Ham Oporto
French Beans, Boiled and Roast Potatoes
Roast Norfolk Turkey with Cranberry Jelly
Rolled Ox Tongue with Leg of Pork and Apple Sauce
Salad with Mayonnaise Dressing
Plum Puddindg with Cranberry Sauce
After 11 days at sea the players got the chance to get onto dry land when the Ceramic docked at Curacao in the Dutch West Indies.
Two days later they reached the Panama Canal and had another stop off in Panama City. They crossed the Equator on 17 April and the international dateline on what should have been Monday, 1 May.
They finally arrived in Wellington Harbour on Tuesday, 2 May. There was a civic reception, the Prime Minister welcomed them, but then it was back on board the Matai to cross the Cook Straits to head to Nelson.
They had eight days to prepare for their first game, against Nelson-Marlborough-Golden Bay-Motueka at Trafalgar Park. They won 24-3 and triumphed in 17 and drew another of their 23 games in New Zealand.
They drew the first Test and lost the other three – two by three points and one by eight.
In Australia, they beat the Wallabies 19-6 and 24-3, but lost their final match against New South Wales. It meant they ended with 22 wins and a draw from their 29 games, including two wins and a draw in their six Tests.
DR JACK MATTHEWS
It was an eventful tour for the legendary Cardiff centre. He celebrated his 30th birthday by captaining the Lions in their 27-3 win over Poverty Bay-East Coast-Bay of Plenty on 21 June.
He scored two of his six tour tries for good measure. He ended up playing in 20 matches and started in all six Tests.
Nothing was going to stop Dr Jack going on tour and he had to engage a locum to take over his general practice in Llandaff.
He reckoned the tour cost him £5,000 – the players received a 50 shillings, or £2.50 in today’s money, allowance per week – and by the time he came home his son, Peter, was two months old and had yet to meet his father.
In 2005, when the Lions were in New Zealand, the Wales No. 8 Michael Owen flew home to be at the birth of his daughter, Olivia.
He left New Zealand on Sunday, arrived in time for the birth in Wales on Monday, caught a flight back down under on Tuesday and was back in training on Thursday.
For Dr Jack and his Lions team-mates, after playing for almost four months between 10 May – 2 September, and been away from home since 30 March, they began their homeward journey on SS Strathnavar from Melbourne on Tuesday, 5 September.
They still had 32 days to go before arriving home.
They sailed home via the southern coast of Australia, the Indian Ocean, the Arabian and Red Seas, the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean.
They stopped off at Adelaide, Freemantle, Bombay, Aden and Marseilles. There was also time for one more match at Colombo against Ceylon in an unofficial fixture.
They reached Brixham on Saturday, 7 October and disembarked at Tilbury the next day. One of the great tours had finally come to an end!