William James McBride, MBE, better known as Willie John McBride (born 6 June 1940) is a former rugby union footballer who played as a lock for Ireland and the British and Irish Lions. He played 63 Tests for Ireland including eleven as captain, and toured with the Lions five times — a record that gave him 17 Lions Test caps. He also captained the most successful ever Lions side which toured South Africa in 1974.
McBride continued to play for Ireland throughout the 1960s and played for Ireland when they first defeated South Africa (the Springboks) in 1965, and when Ireland defeated Australia in Sydney — the first time a Home Nations team had defeated a major southern hemisphere team in their own country. He was again selected for the Lions in 1966, this time touring New Zealand and Australia. He toured South Africa with the Lions again in 1968.
He was selected to play for the Lions in their 1971 tour of New Zealand. Despite being criticized by some as being "over the hill", McBride was made pack leader and helped the Lions to a Test series win over New Zealand; their first and last series win over New Zealand.
McBride's outstanding leadership qualities led to his appointment as captain of the 1974 Lions tour to South Africa. His partner at lock was Gordon Brown of Scotland. The Test series was won 3-0, with one match drawn — the first Lions series ever won in South Africa. It was one of the most controversial and physical Test match series ever played. The management of the Lions concluded that the Springboks dominated their opponents with physical aggression, and so decided to match fire with fire. Willie John McBride instigated a policy of "one in, all in" - that is, when one Lion retaliated, all other Lions were expected to join in the melee or hit the nearest Springbok.
At that time there were only substitutions if a doctor agreed that a player was physically unable to continue and there were no video cameras and sideline officials to keep the punching, kicking, and head butting to a minimum. If the South Africans were to resort to foul play then the Lions decided "to get their retaliation in first." The signal for this was to call "99" (a shortened version of the emergency number in the United Kingdom — 999). This was a signal for the Lions to clobber their nearest rival players.
In 1975 as his international career was ending he played his last game for Ireland at Lansdowne Road. The game was against France and near the end of the match, he scored his first ever Test try for Ireland. It was the crowning moment of a great playing career. His last international game was against Wales on Saturday 15 March 1975.
After retiring from playing the game, McBride coached the Irish team and was manager of the 1983 Lions tour to New Zealand. Despite the test results being mainly poor, team camaraderie was high and some good wins were recorded in other games. In 1997 he was an inaugural inductee into the International Rugby Hall of Fame. He lives in Ballyclare. He has been asked to present Test jerseys and give motivational speeches to Lions players prior to matches. In 2004 he was named in Rugby World magazine as "Heineken Rugby Personality of the Century". He is a major supporter of the Wooden Spoon Society.
He is remembered fondly by members and supporters of Stockport Rugby Club for attending the Glengarth Sevens with a lion cub from Longleat, helping to raise money for the charity and adding to the fantastic atmosphere and help upkeep the strong reputation of sevens rugby at Stockport
Note 1: Robert Seddon died on tour after a boating accident, Andrew Stoddart, became captain for the remainder of the tour. Note 2: Matthew Mullineux decided that after losing the first test that he should withdraw from further test matches, handing on field captaincy to Frank Stout, but remained tour captain. Note 3: David Bedell-Sivright was injured during the first test. Teddy Morgan took over captaincy on the field but Bedell-Sivright remained tour captain. Note 4: The team that John Raphael captained was not selected by the four Home Nations governing body, but had been organised by Oxford University and billed as the English Rugby Union team. However, it was denoted as the Combined British team by its Argentine hosts because it also included three Scots. Note 5: Jack Jones captained the first test only, but Tommy Smyth remained the tour captain. Note 6: Michael Owen captained the Lions in the first tour game, the test vs. Argentina in Cardiff. Brian O'Driscoll was injured at the beginning of the first test. Martin Corry and Gareth Thomas took over captaincy on the field but O'Driscoll remained tour captain.