Belfast Telegraph

Our greatest sports star: Inspiring Willie John McBride

To celebrate the 20th Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards, sponsored by Linwoods, and taking place on January 26, 2015, we want YOU to decide Northern Ireland’s greatest sports star ever. In alphabetical order, and continuing daily, Steven Beacom assesses the 20 legends shortlisted by a judging panel. Voting details below.

Willie John McBride re-wrote British and Irish Lions history. A giant of a man, his contribution to rugby was just as immense. An outstanding lock, he was an influential figure for the Irish side, playing 63 times, including in rare victories over South Africa and Australia, having made his debut in 1962.

When many think of the great Willie John though, the Lions spring to mind.

Brought up on the family farm in Antrim, McBride inspired the Lions to roar like no other. He toured with the side on five occasions, winning 17 Test caps, and famously captained the most successful Lions team ever in South Africa in 1974.

It was a tour that went down in folklore, one of the most revered sporting successes for a squad from these isles, who won 21 out of 22 matches, with McBride leading the Lions to a magnificent 3-0 success in what was a hugely controversial Test series, with the other match drawn.

The Springboks were known for their aggressive and physical nature and McBride was at the heart of ensuring his team-mates would not be intimidated, instigating a plan that when the South Africans started the rough stuff, every Lion would join together to effectively get their retaliation in first.

How did they know when to get stuck in? When the legendary call of '99' was made.

While some may frown about such tactics now, it worked back then and McBride became known as one of the finest leaders in sporting history.

The 74-year-old is still held in great esteem today throughout the rugby world.

A magazine of the same name awarded him the title of 'Heineken Rugby Personality of the Century' a decade ago.

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