Willie John in his underpants, puffing on his pipe, hotel lobby destroyed, hotel manager apoplectic . . . it’s the Lions on tour
Beds and decorum out the window par for the course in the old amateur tour days
He toured in 1938, when his great running gag, the centre Harry McKibbin said, was to burst into his team-mates’ rooms in the middle of the night, knocking the doors off the hinges, and then systematically smash up all furniture, Keith Moon-style.
“Until,” McKibbin said, “all the chairs and tables and things were just so much bits of kindling around us in the room while we were still in bed.”
The management despaired of Mayne, who hung around with Welsh hooker (what is it about Welsh hookers?) Bunner Travers.
The two of them dressed up as sailors and snuck off to the Durban docks just so they could pick fights with the local longshoremen.
When they got to Ellis Park, they found the stands were being erected by a team of convicts from the local prison who were sleeping in a compound underneath the scaffolding.
Blair and Bunner befriended one of them, and asked him what he had done to merit a prison sentence. “Stealing chickens,” he said. “And I’ve been given a seven-year stretch.” Full of sympathy for their new companion, who they nicknamed “Rooster”, Blair and Bunner returned that night with a pair of bolt cutters and some spare clothes.
They sprung Rooster, and set him free. When he was caught the next day, it turned out the jacket he was wearing still had Mayne’s name stitched inside the collar.
In desperation, the management decided to make Mayne share a room with the outhalf George Cromey, a Presbyterian minister. Even Cromey couldn’t stop Mayne sneaking off from an official dinner to go on a late-night hunting trip with a group of men he’d met who were carrying rifles and lamplights. Cromey waited up for his room-mate till 3am, and then, just as he was nodding off, Mayne broke down the door and announced “I’ve just shot a springbok”.
His blood ran cold
Cromey said his blood ran cold. And then he turned on the light, and saw Mayne, still wearing his cummerbund, with a dead antelope draped over his shoulders.
“Jimmy Unwin has been complaining the meat here isn’t as fresh as it is back home,” Mayne announced. So he took himself off to team-mate Unwin’s room, broke down that door too, and tossed the beast into his bed.
The trouble was, in all the confusion, Unwin cut his leg on the antelope’s horn. That wouldn’t do. So Mayne decided to deposit it outside the room of the South Africa manager, with a note saying: “A gift of fresh meat from the British Isles touring team.”
Well, that did it. Even though the captain, Sammy Walker, was a great friend of his, Mayne knew the management were going to tan his hide. So he scarpered. The team didn’t see him for three days, till he turned up, still in his suit, to meet them on the ship they were sailing home on.
And if those stories sound a little far-fetched, as though, like all the best tales, they have gained a little in the telling, well, they’ve nothing on what he did next. Mayne became one of the founding members of the SAS in the second World War.
He was recruited out of a prison cell, where he had been sent after striking a senior officer “because he bored me”. His bravery won him the Distinguished Service Order with three bars, the Légion d’honneur, and the Croix de Guerre.
Rugby has gained a lot from professionalism but it has a lost a little something too. On the pitch the 2013 Lions may play better rugby than most of their predecessors managed – harder, faster, and tougher, but off it, they’re not a patch on the ones who came before them.