Former Ireland and British and Irish Lions prop Syd Millar dies aged 89

IRFU chief executive Kevin Potts describes Ballymena man as ‘a titan of rugby union and a visionary’

IRFU chief executive Kevin Potts has described former Ireland prop Syd Millar, who has died at the age of 89, as a “a titan of rugby union and a visionary”.

A stalwart of Ballymena Rugby Club and Ulster, Millar made his Ireland debut in 1958 and won a total of 37 caps as well as playing on three British & Irish Lions tours in 1959, 1962 and 1966.

Millar went on to coach Ireland between 1973 and 1975 and was the mastermind behind the Lions undefeated tour to South Africa in 1974. He also served as Lions manager on the 1980 tour and as Ireland manager at the inaugural 1987 Rugby World Cup.

His influence extended into the administration of the game serving as Ulster Branch president, IRFU president in 1995 and then chairman of the British & Irish Lions from 1999 to 2002. He was appointed Chairman of the International Rugby Board (now World Rugby) in 2003 and served until 2007.


Millar was made a CBE in 2005 having previously been named an MBE and was inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame in 2009, as well as being awarded the Légion d’honneur in December 2007.

Speaking on Sunday night, Potts said: “Syd Millar was a titan of rugby union, both in Ireland and globally. A talented player who represented Ballymena, Ulster, Ireland, the Barbarians and the British & Irish Lions with distinction, he was a respected coach and manager and in latter years was a leading administrative figure who helped reshape the global game.

“Syd was a visionary who helped navigate the testing waters as the game moved from amateurism to professionalism.

“A past president of Ballymena Rugby Club, Ulster Rugby and the IRFU, Syd’s influence helped drive the global expansion of the sport.

“His is a legacy which will endure. On behalf of the Irish rugby community I would like to express my sincere condolences to his daughter Lesley, sons Peter and Johnny at this sad time.”

The Lions said in a statement: “There aren’t many people who have given as much to the Lions, or our sport, as the great Syd Millar.

“Three tours as a player, one as a series-winning coach and another as a manager. He also served as a committee member, selector and chairman. It all adds up to an amazing nine tours over six decades.

“All our thoughts are with his family and friends. He will be greatly missed.”

Ballymena RFC posted on X – formerly known as Twitter: “It is with deep regret that the Board of Directors of Ballymena RFC inform members of the passing of highly esteemed member Syd Millar.

“On behalf of everyone connected with Ballymena RFC we extend our sincere condolences to his daughter Lesley, sons Peter and Johnny and family.”