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The greatest full-backs of all time: Andy Irvine

Scotland's Andy Irvine making a break for the Lions Rugby World

Scotland's Andy Irvine holds two British & Irish Lions scoring records. The full-back was one of the greatest of his generation

Sep 14, 2016 7:09 AM EDT

Major teams: Heriot’s
Country: Scotland
Test span: 1972-82
Scotland caps: 51 (51 starts)
Lions caps: 9 (9 starts)
Test points: 301 (12T, 26C, 67P)

The owner of an extremely accurate right-boot from the kicking tee, Irvine’s Lions records may remain unassailable for years to come.

The first is the amount of points on a tour of South Africa, 156 in 15 matches in 1974. The achievement is all the more remarkable considering JPR Williams’s presence restricted him to two Test appearances on the wing.

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Irvine’s second Lions best comes from his cumulative total of 274 in 42 appearances, supplemented by more success in New Zealand in 1977 – including five tries as King Country-Wanganui were beaten 60-9 and back in South Africa as a 1980 injury replacement.

However, to pigeonhole him as merely a sharpshooter would be to overlook his exciting, incisive running from full-back. Blistering pace and a wicked step off either foot could slice defences apart and often provided thrilling counter-punches from backfield.

Winning 51 caps for Scotland between 1972 and and 1982, he earned induction into the Hall of Fame in 1999. Commentary doyen Bill McLaren had a soft spot for the Edinburgh-born veteran of Heriot’s, putting him on par with Australian David Campese as one of the sports’s great entertainers. “Both men were adventurers,” he said.

“When they got the ball, they were prepared to tilt the lance. They lit up matches with their brilliance and because of that they made commentary a piece of toffee.”

And Scotland legend Jim Telfer calls Irvine the best attacking Scotland player he has ever seen. “His pace and power cut defences to pieces and he often won games single-handedly, such was his presence. He was also a very good captain.”

Following his retirement, Irvine coached Heriot’s before being appointed Scottish Rugby Union president in 2005. Two years later, he joined the Lions committee as chairman and became team manager for the 2013 tour of Australia.

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