The first triumphant tour, featuring a Welsh scrum-half and an English flanker on the blindside of the back row, set a template which has been followed, by accident or design, almost without fail during all five successful expeditions since New Zealand in 1971.
Only the names of those wearing the relevant numbers have changed, not the nationality. Even when Gareth Edwards found himself hamstrung during the early minutes of the opening Test in Dunedin, James replaced one Welsh scrum-half with another, then sat back to watch Ray ‘Chicko’ Hopkins play a winning hand.
Since resuming normal service in South Africa in 1974, Edwards has been emulated by Robert Jones in Australia in 1989 and Mike Phillips in the same place eight years ago. Matt Dawson proved the one exception, in South Africa in 1997 but only because Rob Howley, the best scrum-half of his time by a country mile, dislocated a shoulder the week before the series began.
Peter Dixon, the Harlequin flanker from Keighley, set a similar trend under James which other coaches have adhered to rigidly, hence Roger Uttley (South Africa 1974), Mike Teague who replaced Scotland’s Derek White after a losing start against the Wallabies in 1989, Lawrence Dallaglio (1997), Tom Croft (South Africa, 2009) and again in Australia four years later.
Courtney Lawes extended the tradition in Cape Town yesterday, an achievement in itself given the formidable challenge posed by his Irish counterpart, Tadhg Beirne.
Who knows, Warren Gatland might have thumbed through a dog-eared copy of the Carwyn James Lions manual and reacquainted himself with one of the scholarly Welshman’s selection tenets extolling the virtues of the English blindside.
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