Invincible Lions prepare for reunion
Ulster's two most famous British and Irish Lions, Dr Syd Millar and Willie John McBride, are preparing to welcome their comrades-in-arms from the history-making 1974 tour of South Africa.
Played 22, won 21, drew one is the remarkable record to which the Ballymena pair – Millar the coach, with McBride as his erstwhile captain – steered the Lions 40 years ago.
On Thursday, June 19, they will be joined by 25 others – alongside whom they became known as The Invincibles – for an already-sold-out gala dinner at the Culloden Hotel.
Those Belfast-bound colleagues are England's Fran Cotton, Geoff Evans, Alan Old, Alan Morley, Roger Uttley, Chris Ralston and Mike Burton, Scotland's Ian McLauchlan, Sandy Carmichael, Andy Irvine and Billy Steele, and Welsh septet Gareth Edwards, Phil Bennett, JPR Williams, JJ Williams, Bobby Windsor, Tom David and Roy Bergiers.
Mike Gibson, Dick Milliken, Stewart McKinney and Ken Kennedy will join Millar and McBride in bringing the province's representation to six, with Leinster trio Fergus Slattery, Tom Grace and Johnny Moloney completing the Irish contingent.
Tony Neary (England), Ian McGeechan (Scotland) and Clive Rees (Wales) are unable to attend. And sadly, three of the 34 players who made the trip 40 years ago – Gordon Brown, Andy Ripley and Mervyn Davies – have died, as has Alun Thomas who managed that great team.
Yesterday at The Culloden, McBride – who will be 74 on June 6 – said: "Forty years... I don't know where it's gone.
"Sadly, we've lost three, so there will be a bit of sadness at the outset. But it will be great to see the boys back together."
The 40th anniversary reunion has been organised by the Wooden Spoon Children's Charity (Ulster Region) of which McBride is president.
The charity's regional chairman Peter Woods explained: "Since 1997 Wooden Spoon has contributed over £600,000 to projects involving disadvantaged and disabled children and young people throughout Northern Ireland. The unique reunion of so many of rugby's greatest players provides a wonderful opportunity for us to raise valuable funds.
"We are indebted to our president, Willie John McBride, and indeed to all our sponsors including Flybe, Hastings Hotels, Heineken, MIS Claims, Lagan Valley Steels and Phoenix Natural Gas who have made it all possible."
The Invincibles will also attend a second celebratory event in Dublin on June 21.
See Saturday's Belfast Telegraph as Rugby correspondent Niall Crozier looks back on that epic tour to South Africa in 1974