Legendary Rugby Figure Syd Millar Passes Away at Age 89
In a heartbreaking loss for the rugby community, former British and Irish Lions captain Willie John McBride has paid tribute to his “great friend” Syd Millar, who recently passed away at the age of 89. Millar’s unwavering dedication and contributions to the game have left an indelible mark on rugby.
Syd Millar possessed an extraordinary passion for rugby that permeated every aspect of his life. His impressive career spanned player, coach, and administrator roles, establishing himself as a true legend in the sport. Notably, he participated in nine Lions Tests across three tours.
One of his most significant achievements was coaching the Lions to victory during their tour in South Africa back in 1974. This triumph showcased both Millar’s exceptional leadership skills and extensive knowledge of the game. Beyond coaching, he also held prestigious positions such as chairman of World Rugby (formerly known as IRB).
“It’s truly the end of an era,” expressed McBride somberly. “Syd was widely recognized throughout the world—his expertise in rugby was unparalleled. He excelled not only on-field but also off-field as a top-level administrator.”
A proud representative of Ulster province, Syd Millar earned 37 caps playing for Ireland and donned the iconic Lions jersey on a total of 39 occasions during tours held in 1959, 1962, and 1968. Following his successful coaching stint with England against South Africa during their historic series win in ’74,, he later managed another tour to South Africa eight years later.
Millar continued making invaluable contributions even after retiring from active involvement on the field., He assumed managerial responsibilities for Ireland during their campaign at tThe World Cup in 1987, subsequently serving as president of the Irish Rugby Football Union in 1995. His remarkable journey culminated with his term as chairman of World Rugby from 2003 to 2007.
Sharing fond memories, McBride reflected on their time together: “I played alongside Syd and learned so much from him during our Lions tour of South Africa in ’62. We returned for another tour six years later, and it’s hard to believe that next year marks its fiftieth anniversary.”
Their unforgettable experience resonates deeply with McBride: “We had an incredible group of players who were incredibly loyal to Syd. He possessed remarkable man-management skills that kept us united throughout the tour—we played a total of twenty-two games without losing a single one! It truly speaks volumes about his ability to strike the perfect balance between work and play.”
“Syd was someone who knew when to relax and enjoy life outside rugby,” reminisced McBride warmly. “He had an infectious sense of humor, always up for celebrating victories while nurturing friendships around the world.”
While Syd Millar left an indelible mark on global rugby affairs, his heart remained firmly tied to Ballymena Rugby Club—his local club where he began and ended his lifelong connection with the sport.
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