Ruck and Maul: Stars of '74 know race will always have a place in South African rugby

The 1974 Lions left Britain midway between two general elections and visited a South Africa in the grip of the disgusting apartheid regime. So politics and sport mingle, inevitably, in two TV films shown this weekend: 'The Invincibles' on Sky, and 'The Lions' Roar' on BBC Wales this evening. Denis Howell, the minority Labour government's sports minister in '74, advised against the tour, calling it "a moral matter"; both Howell and Ted Heath, the Conservative leader, welcomed the victorious tourists home in person. "They used us as pawns and it was pathetic," JJ Williams says. Bernie Habana (Bryan's dad) and the current South Africa coach Peter de Villiers recall segregated stadiums and crowds of caged-off black spectators cheering wildly when the Lions scored against the all-white Springboks. Did the tour undermine apartheid or give it succour? Fast forward to this year and an intriguing irony. A plan for the Boks to play a warm-up match against New Zealand Maori – in Soweto – was abandoned because South African law prohibits teams selected on racial lines.

Lions in high spirits

"We'll have a smile on our face," the tour manager, Gerald Davies, told the Lions' farewell dinner, "and a sliver of ice in our blood." Not being medically minded, Ruck and Maul is unsure whether this has anything to do with the tourists' early-morning stints in an altitude chamber at their Surrey hotel. The instructions pinned to the three-metre long perspex box ordered a treadmill or exercise bike session of "2 x 5 mins progressive, 2 x 2 mins maximum effort, 1 min easy." It also advised: "Mask on at all times – if it is your first time in a mask, take it easy."

Wilko's new post

A terse notice on the Newcastle Falcons website on Wednesday, giving devotees of Toulon-bound Jonny Wilkinson a forwarding address in Hexham for their fan mail, can be explained here. It came from Jonny's mum, who would rather not drive 30 miles to and from Kingston Park to pick up stray letters, good-luck cards, knickers or whatever.

It's Denver for Danny

We will never know if Wilkinson would have been Martin Johnson's first choice as England fly-half when the new manager took over last autumn. Wilko was injured and Danny Cipriani had the honour. Now Cipriani is out of favour and some of us could do with a Dan Brown to de-code Johnson's thinking. Cipriani has gone from being the starting No 10 in Johnson's first three Tests to understudying the uncapped Sam Vesty and Tom May. Rumours of backstage bust-ups are knocked back by Johnson. Next stop for "Cips" is the Churchill Cup in Denver, with matches at Infinity Park and Dick's Sporting Goods Park. We had a comment to give you from a lady at the latter venue but once we'd mentioned she was the Dick's Sporting Goods Park Senior Director of Venue Operations, we ran out of space.

hughgodwin@yahoo.co.uk

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