The day Otago tamed the Lions

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The arrival of the British and Irish Lions to take on the Highlanders next month is sure to bring back memories for one St Clair resident.

Tuppy Diack (86) played on the wing and kicked 14 points for the 1959 Otago team which beat the Lions by 26-8 at Carisbrook.

All in all, he played against the tourists three times – for Otago, New Zealand Universities and for the All Blacks in the only test match he ever played.

The tour was “one of the important peaks of my career”, Diack said.

He remembered an “intense month” having played eight matches in the month prior to the Otago match.

In that game, Diack tore the ligaments in an ankle just 10 minutes into it after he was double tackled by two Lions players.

“It was excruciating,” he recalled.

But there were no replacements so he played on.

The Lions made the mistake of trying to play an overly expansive game in wet conditions, he said

“The Lions were dead keen on playing open rugby and conditions weren’t suitable for the open game.

“They were trying to throw the ball about and our guys were just tackling them to the ground and they were making mistakes, as you do in wet weather.”

The leather rugby ball also became heavy and slippery in the conditions.

Otago was behind at halftime but scored a try soon after the resumption of play.

That was the first of four Otago scored in the second stanza on its way to a 26-8 victory.

Lions star Tony O’Reilly was regarded at the time as the best winger in the world but he underperformed that day.

“He had a real bad game,” Diack said.

At one point, O’Reilly tried to kick the ball out from inside his own in-goal area.

The ball sliced off his foot and remained inside the in-goal. Otago lock Keith Nelson dived on the ball and scored.

Diack’s ankle injury suffered in the Otago game was serious enough to prevent him taking the field in the first test in Dunedin but a month later he made his international debut in the second test in Wellington marking O’Reilly on the wing.

With a broad grin emerging across his face, he told The Star O’Reilly did not score in that game either.

Diack is looking forward to the Highlanders match against the Lions on June 13 and is optimistic about the team’s chances.

Coaching staff had done a really good job in welding the team together and the Highlanders were playing an 80-minute game, he said.