Fearless Former England rugby captain John Pullin dies aged 79

Fearless Former England rugby captain John Pullin dies aged 79


LONDON: Former England rugby captain John Pullin has died aged 79 after a long illness, his old club Bristol announced Friday. John Pullin's unique place in rugby folklore dates back to a windy day in Dublin where they gave him a standing ovation before the match and another for what he said about losing it.

This very weekend 48 years ago, at the height of The Troubles which caused Scotland and Wales to abandon their fixtures in Ireland the previous season, the fearless West Country farmer ignored security risks and led his team out. The Irish crowd's acclamation at Lansdowne Road delayed kick-off by several minutes.

After finishing a poor second, Pullin famously told guests at the post-match dinner: 'We may not be much good, but at least we turn up.'

'I will never forget the reaction,' Willie John McBride, the revered Irish Lion, said years later. 'Everyone stood up and roared their approval at that remark.'

A hooker renowned for his scrummaging strength, Pullin, a farmer all his working life, won 42 caps in a decade from 1966. 

In an era where they largely struggled in the Five Nations, Pullin was involved in England's home and away wins over South Africa in 1969 and 1972 respectively before leading the team to a shock victory over New Zealand in Auckland in 1973. 

Pullin also made seven Test appearances for the British and Irish Lions and starred in their 1971 series win over the All Blacks.

In addition, he played in the Barbarians' celebrated 1973 win over New Zealand in Cardiff, being the only non-Welshman involved in a length of the field move that culminated in outstanding scrum-half Gareth Edwards scoring what many still consider to be rugby union's greatest try. 

But Pullin is perhaps best remembered for being captain of the England side that travelled to Ireland for a Five Nations match in 1973, a year after Wales and Scotland had refused to play in Dublin because of terror threats from the Irish Republican Army, which wanted an end to British control of Northern Ireland.

With the so-called 'Troubles' still at their height -- 18 people had died as a result of acts of violence on the island of Ireland in the first four weeks of 1973 -- England received a standing ovation when they took the field at Lansdowne Road.

He led England to Test victories over South Africa (18-9 in Johannesburg), New Zealand (16-10 in Auckland) and Australia (20-3 at Twickenham), all in a period from June 1972 to November 1973. No England captain had done that before and none would do it again until Martin Johnson almost 30 years later.

England, however, lost 18-9, a defeat which prompted Pullin to say at the post-match dinner: "We may not be much good, but at least we turn up." 

When the Lions won a series in New Zealand for the first time in 1971, Pullin, who played for Bristol, was the sole Englishman to play all four Tests. And when Gareth Edwards finished off the 'Try of the Century' for the Barbarians against the All Blacks at Cardiff in 1973, Pullin's were the only non-Welsh hands in its creation.

And at the height of his 17-year career he was voted the best hooker in the world.

Pullin, who died on Friday aged 79 after a long fight against illness, will be remembered for infinitely more than the Dublin bon mot.