When a flight back to London took off from New Zealand after the 1977 Lions tour, there was a spontaneous round of applause from all aboard.
It had rained almost every day of a tour which had spanned three months and 26 games, with local newspapers not wasting a single opportunity to paint the tourists in a less than heroic light.
Maybe some satanic cults have enjoyed more favourable media coverage.
There were stories of wild sex parties involving dozens of local women.
According to Phil Bennett in his autobiography, when Bobby Windsor heard such claims, “he demanded to know where these orgies were taking place and why he hadn’t been invited!”
Whatever, the Lions of 44 years ago were not unhappy to head home after a 3-1 beating in their series with the All Blacks.
Sixteen years later in 1993, the best of British and Irish rugby gave a stronger account of themselves in the Tests but still came up short and the midweek team were little short of embarrassing, with a few honourable exceptions.
Matters reached a low when the Lions were thrashed 38-10 by a Waikato side inspired by Warren Gatland.
The tour was the last by the Lions in the amateur era, with much changing thereafter.
Sky Sports chronicled the 1997 Lions adventure with a Living with the Lions documentary, and there’s been one made to mark every trip since.
Maybe that helps cement memories of those tours in people’s minds.
Read more: Scott Gibbs at 50, the unique and complex character few people really know
But a lot happened in the summer of 1993, too, even if the precise details may be forgotten by many.
These are some of the stories.
Including replacements, England had 17 players in the tour party, despite falling to defeats against Wales and Ireland in that year’s Five Nations; Scotland supplied eight tourists, Wales five and Ireland four.
Despite England being widely seen as over-represented — Ireland had crushed them on the final weekend of that year’s Five Nations — there was still a case to be made for one more English player to be on the trip. But prop Jeff Probyn was left out.
A gifted scrum technician, he would have come in handy when the going got tough.
Scotland’s Gavin Hastings was chosen as captain.
He would return home with his reputation as a player and leader hugely enhanced.
Not everyone applauded the presence of so many English players in the squad, but Scott Gibbs, who emerged as a player of true world class that summer, reckoned they more than worked their passage.
In his book. Getting Physical, he wrote: “When I came back from the tour, everyone was asking me: ‘How were they English? Were they b******s?’
“To be honest, the English were the best and most professional on tour, the best to mix with.
“People like Jerry Guscott and Rob Andrew, for whom I still have great respect, made me feel at home, helped me grow up and made me feel part of something special.”
Scott Gibbs surges forward for the Lions in 1993
Desperate dirt trackers
Let’s agree there have been more fired-up second-string teams.
Four years earlier, Donal’s Doughnuts had gone into Lions legend with their exploits on the tour of Australia.
But in ’93 it didn’t happen for many of those outside the Test side.
“Playing for the midweek side was not a pleasant experience,” Robert Jones said in his autobiography, Raising the Dragon.
“There was nothing like the Donal Doughnuts phenomenon this time round.
“The team had no real identity and it effectively fell apart as the tour went on.
“The tour management has to take a lot of the blame for this. There was a very clear ‘us and them’ feeling in the party from early on.
“It even reached the point where the Test and midweek teams were segregated, staying in different wings of the same hotel.”
Before the match against Waikato, tour manager Geoff Cooke read out the names of those in the team, before telling the Test boys some of them would have to sit on the bench. As he listed those names, other Test players not involved laughed at their colleagues’ fate. Richard Webster, who never gave up in any game at any point, stood up and told those concerned he thought their attitude was disgraceful.
Some felt the low point to have come against Hawke’s Bay, when the Lions were tuned by a Kiwi second division outfit.
Others were in no doubt that rock bottom was reached against Gatland’s Waikato, when the class of ’93 were steam-rollered in the front five especially.
After that game, there unfolded an episode which has gone down in Lions legend.
Peter Winterbottom later said: “Mike Teague told me about an incident when he walked into a stadium urinal after the Waikato game and overheard an exchange between an elderly Kiwi fan and one of the Scottish Lions who had played in the defeat.
“The pensioner said: ‘Mate, you were a bloody disgrace.’
“To which he got the reply: ‘Shut up old man, or I’ll give you a hiding.’
“Teague responded: ‘My money’s on the old man.’”
Teague, Webster, Stuart Barnes, Will Carling, Tony Clement and Jones were among the midweekers who returned home with their reputations intact.
But there were questions over plenty of others.
“There were a lot of players on that tour who should not have been there, simply because they were not good enough to be Lions,” Teague is quoted as saying in the excellent Behind the Lions, by Stephen Jones, Tom English, Nick Cain and David Barnes.
“I remember Peter Winterbottom coming into the changing room after the Waikato game, and he was disgusted with the performance of some of the front-five forwards.
“Right in front of the players in question, Wints said to me: ‘I refuse to play with them again’.
“The tour party had split down the middle.”
Scottish prop Peter Wright later said: “I’ve heard all the chat about the Scottish front five, and myself in particular — worst Lions ever and all that crap — and that does grate. People are entitled to their opinion, but I know that I did the best that I could.”
Peter Winterbottom leaves the field
(Image: 1993 Mark Leech Sports Photography)
The tears in Will Carling’s eyes as he sat in a dressing room in Napier told a story.
Maligned by many, the then England captain had found himself playing for the Lions’ dirt-trackers four days before the second Test against New Zealand in Wellington.
The team was duly beaten out of sight by Hawke’s Bay, even if Carling himself had done his best in a hopeless collective cause.
Gibbs, strong and aggressive, had come to the fore and was to take his place in the Test team, but the England centre kept playing for the squad, kept trying his hardest. When he learned that Gibbs had ousted him for the second Test, he was the first person to congratulate the young Welshman.
And Gibbs never forgot how Carling reacted to being dropped.
“He was the captain of England and one of the biggest names in the world game,” Gibbs later said. “I was a 22-year-old who had only been converted to inside centre by Lions’ coach Ian McGeechan the month before.
“Carling had to cope with a barrage of questions and media coverage which kept going on about how much he had been humiliated.
“He had already had a blow by losing out on the Lions captaincy to Gavin Hastings.
“It would have been easy for Carling to have found an excuse to return home, but he kept going and became one of the few dirt-trackers to emerge with his reputation intact after the midweek campaign fizzled out.
“His attitude impressed me at the time and — allowing for the fact that the game was amateur then — it is the way a professional should conduct himself.
“The team always comes first. Which does not mean that you should not feel disappointment. If being dropped does not hurt you, nothing will.
“You just don’t show it and you have to make sure squad morale is not affected.”
The England centre had been ordinary in the early weeks of the tour.
Peter Winterbottom reflected: “I told Will Carling at one stage that he was a f*****g disgrace, because he was a good player, and was letting himself down — although Scott Gibbs was playing better.”
But in adversity and despair of being axed from the Test team, Carling emerged with credit, even if off-field issues plagued him.
At one point a woman pulled up her top close by him and someone took a picture.
The image didn’t see the light of day. Dean Richards grabbed the camera and took the film out.
There were no takers for an argument.
Scott Gibbs on tour with the Lions in 1993
(Image: Getty Images)
The Dooley episode
Wade Dooley had returned home during the tour after the passing of his father.
The New Zealand Rugby Football Union offered to pay for his flight back after the funeral.
It didn’t happen, with the home unions secretary Bob Weighill telling the great lock that under the tour agreement, he wasn’t allowed to play after heading home, with replacement Martin Johnson having been called up.
The Lions players were furious that Dooley’s return had been blocked, and Weighill bore the brunt of their displeasure at the perceived shoddy treatment of a legend.
Weighill was shunned by the players. Anyone in the squad caught talking to him faced an automatic fine of 10 New Zealand dollars. Not one fine was imposed.
There were suggestions of all players signing a letter of complaint to the committee of the home unions, and stories of Weighill answering his hotel room door deep into the night as fictitious room service orders, phoned in by players, arrived one after another.
Dooley, 35 at the time, had been due to retire at the close of the tour.
He deserved to end on a higher note.
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Webster and the shotgun
Richard Webster may not have won a Lions Test cap, but he was widely felt to have been one of the players of the trip, an outstanding tourist on and off the field.
Throughout his career he was known as a man who wouldn’t recognise a lost cause if it smacked him between the eyes.
Nothing changed in New Zealand.
Had he not been competing for a place with an all-time great in Winterbottom, he would almost certainly have returned home as a Test Lion.
Being Richard Webster, though, he still had stories to tell.
There was a memorable incident at a clay-pigeon shooting session when the Welsh back rower fired shots and hit a few of his targets. He then waved his gun around in celebration, forgetting that he had a cartridge still to fire. It went off, hitting the ground a couple of inches from Winterbottom’s foot.
In his book Bread of Heaven, Ieuan Evans wryly recalled: “Needless to say the management took a dim view of it and banned Webster from all firearms, a clear case of protecting the Lions from unwarranted attack as opposed to pigeons, clay or otherwise.”
How they laughed.
But not always on that tour.
The Lions lost the series 2-1, the victims of a shocking first Test decision which saw New Zealand awarded an early try. The tourists battled back to achieve parity by winning the second game but were overwhelmed in the third.
A near-miss, some observed.
Others spoke of a lost opportunity.
The class of ’93 could have achieved glory by securing the rugby rarity of a visiting Test series win in New Zealand, but for many they are largely forgotten about.