Ray McLoughlin, former Ireland captain and two-time Lions tourist, dies aged 82

McLoughlin, who held the record for Irish caps, is regarded as a visionary and “one of the finest scrum operators to have ever graced the game”
Ray McLoughlin, former Ireland captain and two-time Lions tourist, dies aged 82

Ray McLoughlin pictured for the 1971 Lions Tour of New Zealand. (Photo by Wackett/Daily Express/Getty Images)

Ray McLoughlin, a former Irish rugby captain, two-time Lions tourist, and one of Connacht’s greatest players, has died aged 82.

The Ballinasloe-native held the record for Irish caps, making 40 as a prop between 1962 and 1975, and captaining his country on eight occasions. He was regarded as a visionary ahead of his time after introducing structured training sessions and instilling strict discipline.

He was Connacht’s first-ever Lion, playing in 14 provincial games and three Tests, including both wins over Australia, in 1966. He sustained a broken thumb in the famous Battle of Canterbury in 1971, which ruled him out for the remainder of the victorious Tour of New Zealand.

His two international tries came in the Lions’ opening Test win over Australia in 1966 and Ireland’s famous 1972 victory against France, their only away win between 1952 and 2000.

He captained Ireland to their first victory over South Africa in 1965 – one not repeated until 2004 – and featured in the 1973 draw with New Zealand. That same year, he also lined out for the Barbarians in their victory over the All Blacks, which featured Gareth Edwards’ famous try.

A Lions Rugby tribute recalled McLoughlin as “one of the finest scrum operators to have ever graced the game”.

“While McLoughlin’s absence from the front row after his (1971) Tour-ending injury was a blow to the Lions, his scrum knowledge proved crucial in the Test series that followed.

“He put his personal disappointment behind him and was credited with playing a vital role in tutoring the forwards who helped the Lions secure a historic series win over the All Blacks.

“In fact, John Taylor – who toured with McLoughlin with the Lions in 1971 – later described the Ireland legend as ‘one of the best technicians the game has ever known’.” 

Lions captain in 1971, John Dawes said: “Ray was the wisehead, the intelligentsia of forward play. He and Carwyn (James, Lions coach) would spend hours together, Carwyn trying to learn from Ray the intricacies of forward play.” 

McLoughlin attended school at Garbally College, where he started as a No.8, and captained Ballinasloe’s junior team to Connacht Cup success in 1958.

He played club rugby for UCD, where he was converted into a prop, and Blackrock College, and in England for Gosforth (now Newcastle Falcons) and London Irish.

He represented Connacht 34 times across 16 years, making him one of the province’s most-capped players of the amateur era.

“McLoughlin is regularly mentioned as one of Ireland’s greatest-ever props and he leaves an immeasurable impact on rugby in the West of Ireland,” said a Connacht Rugby tribute.

Away from the rugby field, McLoughlin was also a successful businessman, becoming CEO of industrial holdings group James Crean in 1973 and later chairman of printing group Oakhill.

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