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Lions heroes rolling back the years

By Niall Crozier

The Willie John McBride-captained, Syd Millar-coached 1974 British and Irish Lions have assembled for a 40th anniversary weekend of celebrations of their conquest of South Africa.

Organised by the Wooden Spoon Children's Charity of which McBride is president, this is a gathering of the side which became known as The Invincibles in recognition of having set a record that will never be bettered now that 22-match tours lasting three-and-a-half months are a thing of the past.

Asked what the occasion meant to him, 65-year-old Fergus Slattery joked: "It means I'm still breathing and that's very important at this stage! Syd has just mentioned a fiftieth reunion, but I don't know about that – we thought we were doing well when we got to the tenth one!

"No, it's great to have got this far and it's great to see the guys in such good shape, too."

Captain McBride reflected: "Sadly we have lost three of our colleagues in those 40 years and I'm sure they are looking down on us today and smiling to see something like this."

And recalling what had made the '74 side special, he added: "They just were tremendous on and off the pitch and it was my privilege to be captain."

Slattery echoed those sentiments, saying: "The reason we succeeded was because we worked together.

"There was unity throughout from start to finish - that was the starting point in everything we did."

Last night the '74 Lions attended a gala dinner in The Culloden. Tomorrow they will be in Dublin for another sold-out function.

Meanwhile, Ulster scrum-half Michael Heaney flew to Romania yesterday to join up with the Emerging Ireland ahead of Sunday's Nations Cup decider with the hosts at Bucharest's Stadionul National Arcul de Triumf.

Heaney's late call-up came when Leinster's Luke McGrath was ruled out after suffering concussion in Tuesday's 51-3 rout of Uruguay.

Also out – again as a result of concussion – is Munster lock Michael Kearney, though he will remain with the squad for the remainder of the tournament.

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