A LIFE in the Dales and a life at the pinnacle of English rugby union have always proved compatible for Grassington-born solicitor John Spencer.

And the former captain of the England team - and president of Wharfedale RUFC for the past 36 years - has just been given one of the game's top honours.

For he has been asked to be manager of the British and Irish Lions Tour of New Zealand in 2017 - 43 years after touring as a player with the only Lions side ever to win a Test series in the country, back in 1971.

John says: "I absolutely love a challenge and this is going to be a huge one. But I'm looking forward to it immensely. Preparations will start in earnest this coming January, so it's going to be two years of fairly hard work. It's something I've always dreamed about doing."

As part of Grassington-based law firmSpencer Davies, John is a well-known figure in the Dales.

He was educated at Sedbergh and went on to study law at Queen's College, Cambridge, where he played in the Varsity matches of 1967, 1968 and 1969 before making his debut for England at the age of 21, against Ireland at Lansdowne Road, Dublin. He went on to play 14 internationals for his country, captaining the side four times. But that first cap was "a big surprise. I was the only player to come from north of Coventry".

It also paired him at centre with Coventry's David Duckham in what would come to be regarded as an iconic England partnership. And John would have almost certainly have got more caps if the Law Society had not insisted that he finished his degree.

"They would not give me a dispensation to go on tour. But I did know it was time to concentrate on my studies for a while so I wasn't too upset. I had really enjoyed playing for England, already had some great memories, and I was playing club rugby at a very good standard for Headingley," he says.

John played for Headingley for 10 years, then moved back home to Wharfedale, where he went on to play in all of its six teams before finally hanging up his boots at the age of 44. He also played for the Barbarians 23 times in his rugby career.

After university he had offers to work and play rugby in London and Cardiff, but was never really tempted to go south.

He explains: " I just love the Dales and always did - wherever I go I am always glad to come home. I like the countryside and I like the lifestyle. For me, it's perfect and I have never ever regretted staying here.

"I have enjoyed the camaraderie of rugby and it's the same with village life - you know everyone, everyone knows you and there are always friends around. I am a very keen gardener too, so I love being at home."

Since 1999 John has been a member of the Rugby Football Union's council and in 2001 was appointed to the board of directors of Club England, among the top posts in English rugby.

And aside from rugby, John has always liked to be involved with the community, taking on a governor role at several schools, including Upper Wharfedale in Threshfield and Ermysted's Grammar School in Skipton.

He says: "To me rugby has always been about 'core values' - friendship, respect and discipline, and I think they can be applied in education, too. It's important in life to have respect for others, to appreciate what you have and not to let anything change you. In sport, winning is very important or there is no point. But it doesn't have to be at the expense of your values.

"Obviously I travel down to Twickenham and London quite a lot and my wife Amanda often comes with me. We have a close circle of friends there too. They are rugby people and I like that."

John says one of the main reasons he is looking forward to taking up his tour manager role is forging relationships with the players.

"I like being close to the players - I am still a player at heart. But I realise the managerial responsibility is a huge one. There are a lot of appointments to be made when you think what a touring team needs nowadays - coaches, doctors and medical staff, physiotherapists, dieticians, a communications team, sponsor liaison officers. It's a lot different to my playing days!

"But I will make sure I enjoy every minute of it."