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Willie John McBride

Nation: Ireland
Place of Birth: Toomebridge, July 6, 1940
Position: Lock
Internationals: 63 caps between 1962 and 1973
Inducted: England v Ireland (March 15, 2008)

The following article has been adapted from the original by Dai Llewellyn, which focused on two players. It has been changed to highlight only the selected inductee’s information.

McBride can truly be described as a Colossus of the game, a living legend. He bestrode the game as a formidable second-row forward through the 1960s and well into the 1970s. He made a record 17 Test appearances for the Lions as well as 63 for Ireland, and at one stage he was the world’s most capped lock.

He will also be forever remembered for the infamous ‘99’ call when captaining the British and Irish Lions in South Africa in 1974. That call signalled mayhem as the Lions got their retaliation in first against a physical Springboks team. “We were bullied at times over there, so we finally stood up for ourselves,” he explained.

But McBride did so much more than shout out a coded call to arms in South Africa. Twickenham was another place where he made his mark. “I have quite a history at Twickenham,” said McBride, “and not a bad record either.”

In fact McBride made his Ireland debut at Headquarters in 1962. “I always found Twickenham a most hospitable place to be, through all my years as a player. And to be inducted on to the World Rugby Museum’s Wall of Fame is a great honour.

“I came into the game relatively late. Though. I was 17 when I took it up and four years later I was trotting out at Twickenham for my first Ireland cap.”

Unfortunately for him it was not a winning start. England won that match, the first of McBride’s 14 games against the Red Rose team, 16-0.

“Prior to my Ireland debut I had played in front of the proverbial one man and his dog, but when I went out on the Twickenham pitch I could not believe what I saw. There were all these people – it was bloody frightening.”

The losing start to his distinguished international career, which spanned 14 years, did not prevent the selectors from picking McBride for the British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa in the summer of 1962.

“You don’t forget your first cap for your country,” added McBride. “There is nothing like it. It is that sort of thing that sticks in your mind for the rest of your life.

“Even though we lost I decided afterwards that I could only get better. If I remember rightly that was the game in which the England fly half Richard Sharpe had a great game.

“And after the match was over and we had been well beaten, there was the consolation of those baths. I had never seen anything like it. They were all ready and filled with steaming water as we came into the dressing room. It was lovely just sinking in to the water.”
But that is not the only memory of luxury that McBride harbours. He called to mind the match at headquarters eight years later, in 1970, when the Ireland selectors recalled Tony O’Reilly, the wing, after a seven-year absence on the international scene.

“He was already a very successful businessman by then and he turned up at training the week before the match in a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce. He even got the chauffeur to carry his kit into the changing room. He loved all that nonsense.

“On the day of the match the weather was horrible, the Twickenham pitch was a mess and O’Reilly? I wouldn’t say he played on the wing: he was on the wing would be more accurate. The conditions did not suit him.

“I think he played his best rugby for the Lions, particularly against New Zealand, when he had all those good backs inside him. But he was a hell of a finisher and in those days he was big for a winger, well over 6ft tall.”

But no one comes bigger than McBride in Irish rugby lore. He is a modern Ulster chieftain, a Cuchulainn of the modern world.

Article by Dai Llewellyn


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