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Lions greatest XV: Roger Utley (1974) – blindside

Roger UttleyWhen the going gets tough, blindside flankers get going – and in Peter Dixon and Derek Quinnell (1971), Roger Uttley (1974), Mike Teague (1989), Ben Clarke (1993), and Lawrence Dallaglio (1997) The Lions have fielded some of the best No.6s the test arena has seen.

Blindsides are a unique breed, needing to be fast enough to be among the first to the breakdown and damaging link-men and runners in open field, but also to have enough size and strength to go toe-to-toe with front five heavyweights at lineouts, mauls and clearing rucks. It is a brutally hard beat, requiring resilience, mobility, power and ferocity.

Nick Cain, The Rugby Paper’s chief writer, says: “Test blindside has been an English preserve on winning post-war Lions tours, with the notable exception of the Welshman, Quinnell.

“Dixon was a rugged Oxford post-graduate student who passed the exam against the 1971 All Blacks with flying colours having been ignored for some time by the England selectors.

“Dixon played in three of the Tests, scoring the try in the Fourth Test draw having been re-instated after an injury to the rumbustuous Quinnell, who had forced his way into The Lions side for Third Test.

“Uttley was selected as a lock in 1974, and played there for a couple of the early tour matches in South Africa before being switched to No6 for the first time in his career. A mobile 6ft 4ins, he adapted so well to his new position that he stayed there for all four Tests against the Springboks, scoring a try for the unbeaten Tourists in the final Test.

“Mike Teague was the player of the series in the 1989 triumph over Australia, with the Gloucester strongman spearheading a pack which dominated the Wallabies in the Second and Third Tests.

“Bath’s Ben Clarke followed suit in 1993, almost inspiring The Lions to victory over New Zealand with his unstoppable carrying.

“In 1997 it was the turn of the iron-willed Wasp, Lawrence Dallaglio, to pick up the blindside mantle, and he did so with distinction in the epic 2-1 series win over the world champion South Africans.

“Tom Croft came so close to emulating that success in the 2009 series, with the Leicester speedster scoring two tries in the First Test reverse against the Springboks, before The Lions lost out with the last kick of the Second Test.”

Teague himself says: “I would start with someone who had a big influence on my career: Roger Uttley. I think in terms of legacy he has to be considered the leading contender as part of the 1974 invincible tour. Although they often interchanged positions, I would also put Fergus Slattery in that bracket.

“I was really fortunate to have Roger as a coach early in my career. One of the main things he taught me was how to adapt and evolve my game. He played second row, openside and No.8 and although he was happiest at blindside, he incorporated aspects of those other positions in his game.

“Finlay Calder was also great, but the other guy I really admired was Richard Hill. He had an enormous impact on the last tour to Australia and even though he didn’t do any of the fancy stuff, he was The Lions’ most influential player.”

Also mentioned: Lawrence Dallaglio, Derek Quinnell, Mike Teague, Ben Clarke, Richard Hill

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