William James McBride, former rugby union footballer better known as Willie John McBride, is born at Toomebridge, County Antrim, Northern Ireland on June 6, 1940. He plays as a lock for Ireland and the British and Irish Lions. He plays 63 tests for Ireland including eleven as captain, and tours with the Lions five times, a record that gives him 17 Lions test caps. He also captains the most successful ever Lions side, which tours South Africa in 1974.
Owing to his father’s death when he is four years old, McBride spends most of his spare time helping out on his family farm. Because of this he does not start playing rugby until he is seventeen. He is educated at Ballymena Academy and plays for the school’s First XV. After he leaves he joins Ballymena R.F.C.
In 1962 McBride is selected to play for Ireland. His first Test on February 10, 1962 is against England at Twickenham Stadium. Later that year he is selected to tour South Africa with the British and Irish Lions.
McBride continues to play for Ireland throughout the 1960s and plays for Ireland when they first defeat South Africa in 1965, and when Ireland defeats Australia in Sydney, the first time a Home Nations team had defeated a major southern hemisphere team in their own country. He is again selected for the Lions in 1966, this time touring New Zealand and Australia. He tours South Africa with the Lions again in 1968.
McBride is selected to play for the Lions in their 1971 tour of New Zealand. Despite being criticized by some as being “over the hill,” he is made pack leader and helps the Lions to a test series win over New Zealand, their first and last series win over New Zealand. He receives an MBE in 1971 for services to rugby football.
McBride’s leadership qualities lead to his appointment as captain of the British and Irish Lions in their 1974 tour to South Africa. The test series is won 3–0, with one match drawn, the first Lions series ever won in South Africa. It is one of the most controversial and physical test match series ever played. At the time there are only substitutions if a doctor agrees that a player is physically unable to continue and there are no video cameras and sideline officials to keep the punching, kicking and head butting to a minimum. If the South Africans are to resort to foul play then the Lions decide “to get their retaliation in first.” The signal for this is to call “99,” which is a signal for the Lions to clobber their nearest rival players.
In 1975 as his international career is ending McBride plays his last game for Ireland at Lansdowne Road. The game is against France, and near the end of the match he scores his first test try for Ireland. It is the crowning moment of a great playing career. His last international game is against Wales on March 15, 1975. After retiring from playing the game, McBride coaches the Irish team and is manager of the 1983 Lions tour to New Zealand. Despite the test results being mainly poor, team camaraderie is high and some good wins are recorded in other games.
In 1997 McBride is an inaugural inductee into the International Rugby Hall of Fame. He has been asked to present test jerseys and give motivational speeches to Lions players prior to matches. In 2004 he is named in Rugby World magazine as “Rugby Personality of the Century.” He is a major supporter of the Wooden Spoon Society.
McBride is awarded a CBE in the 2019 New Year Honours list for services to Rugby Union.