In a continued series, I reflect on some of the greatest moments in Lions touring history.
1950 – The Lions break the drought
It was the first tour after the war, the first in 12 years, officially the first team to be named “the Lions” and the first tour where the Lions would win a series (not withstanding matches against Argentina) since 1904.
Even though they lost the series to the All Blacks, they managed a 9-9 draw in the first test after New Zealand captain Ron Elvidge scored in the dying minutes to level the scores.
Players such as Jack Kyle and Ken Jones tested the might of the All Blacks, whose dominance lay in their strong pack.
The Lions though would then tour to Australia, to record a two test series victory, and only a 12-17 loss to a New South Wales XV, denying them a clean sweep of the country.
1974 - Willie Johns call to arms
It was an era where the Springboks ruled through physical intimidation. The South Africans had just marched through Australia in 1971, whitewashing the Wallabies 3-0.
Nonetheless, McBride’s Lions arrived in South Africa with a vicious strategy, to match that aggression, to strike before being struck. No doubt buoyed by the confidence of a historic series success against the All Blacks, and with arguably the most potent side ever assembled by the home unions, the Lions decided on the call of 99.
If “99” were called, essentially every member of the team was to attack the nearest Springbok. It was an awesome sight, the sight of these crazed red jersey devils launching themselves at the immense men of South Africa.
The Battle of Boet Erasmus was the prime example, where JPR Williams ran half the field to attack Moaner van Heerdon, the giant Springbok lock.
With no videos or citing officials, it was hardly as if the South African referee would send off the entire Lions team.
1989 - Finlay Calder’s brings Lions back to winning ways
Ian McGeechan’s first term as Lions coach broke a 15 year series drought with a victory over a Wallabies team that was emerging as a genuine world power.
It was also the first time that Australia had “hosted” their first sole Lions tour for 90 years.
It was a great team which had the wizardry of Gavin Hastings and Jeremy Guscott at the back, which was enforced by the forwards of Brian Moore, Dean Richards and Paul Ackford.
Despite this, they would be thumped in the first test, losing to the Wallabies 12-30 in a hugely physical clash. They would win the second and third tests in brutal affairs.
The team would become the first Lions side to win a series after going one down in a series. They would win every other match in a shortened Lions tour, just playing 12 matches.
1997 - Jim Telfer’s implores players to “scale Everest”
The last test series against the Springboks and the last series that the Lions won, Ian McGeechan’s side conquered the odds and took down the World Champions, thanks largely to the boot of Neil Jenkins and the spirit of forwards coach Telfer.
The famous Scottish No. 8, who played in two Lions tours (1966-1968) had immense pride not only of the Lions jersey but also in rugby itself.
A great of the game, he gave a stirring speech to his forwards ahead of the first test with the mighty Springboks.
A culture of bleeding for your team, sacrificing your body, and putting forward a crusade which superseded the normal boundaries of rugby, and going forward to conquering a summit.
To avoid a cliche, the rest is history.
2005 - O’Driscoll and Lions turned upside down
The most prepared Lions tour in history. 44 players and 26 back-room staff. Bill Beaumont telling the team how the tour would be run, McGeechan would describe the necessary culture of winning as a Lion; Eddie O’Sullivan would stress the importance of preparation.
Occurring early in the first test match, the “O’Driscoll” incident epitomised the issues on tour.
It was the tackle that sent shockwaves around the Rugby World. It would be continued to be talked about for many months following what appeared to be a speak tackle on O’Driscoll by All Blacks captain Tana Umaga and Keven Mealamu.
At the time, it was said to be nothing more than clearing him out of a ruck.
The series would end as the third series whitewash inflicted by the All Blacks, joining the 1966 and 1983 tours. By points aggregate it was the worst defeat ever suffered by the fabled touring team.
The best ever Lions promo
Captain Tana Umaga starts a game of Bull rush with the entire All Blacks and Lions team.
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