British & Irish Lions
Tests of character
June 17, 2009
Lions wing Ieuan Evans beats Greg Martin to score and win the Test series against Australia in 1989 © Getty Images
With the 2009 British & Irish Lions a matter of days away from their first Test against the Springboks in Durban, we take a look back at their history for some inspirational performances. In South Africa, New Zealand and Australia the Lions have tasted defeat, but they also have created some treasured memories.
The current players won't have to be reminded of the traditions that they will be upholding, but could do worse than to take heart from these Lions performances.
South Africa 22-23 British & Irish Lions, first Test, Ellis Park, Johannesburg, August 6, 1955
Heading in to the Test series against the Springboks the Lions were huge underdogs, with their hosts having romped to a Grand Slam in Britain and Ireland in 1951-52.
In front of a crowd of 95,000 Cecil Pedlow, Jeff Butterfield, Cliff Morgan, Jim Greenwood and Tony O'Reilly all breached the South African defence to set up the narrowest of victories for the tourists. They were also indebted to a missed conversion by fullback Jack van der Schyff, his stoppage-time lapse allowing the men in red a 1-0 series lead. Following their auspicious start a 9-6 victory at Loftus Versfeld put the Lions 2-1 ahead in the series, but the Springboks responded in the fourth and final Test as an epic tour ended level.
New Zealand 3-13 British & Irish Lions, third Test, Athletic Park, Wellington, July 31, 1971
Gareth Edwards, a mercurial presence in the red of Wales or the Lions, had one of his finest games to put the Lions 2-1 up in the four-Test series in New Zealand.
The final Test at Eden Park in Auckland was a tie, leaving the Lions with their first, and as yet only, series victory in New Zealand. "In 1971 for the first time we believed we could beat them - and we did," said Willie John McBride, who would next take charge of the greatest Lions side - the 1974 'Invincibles'.
South Africa 9-28 British & Irish Lions, second Test, Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria, June 22, 1974
McBride's men set off on an unbeaten tour with a complete side, a competitive and whole-hearted pack and a quick and skilful backline, again marshalled by Edwards, this time in tandem with his Welsh team-mate Phil Bennett. After a 12-3 first Test triumph at Newlands in Cape Town, the Lions re-wrote the record books with a thumping win at Loftus Versfeld. Welsh winger JJ Williams, in form he would never recreate, scored two tries as the Springboks were overwhelmed.
Dick Milliken and McBride's second-row partner Gordon Brown also scored, while Ian McGeechan kicked a drop goal and Bennett had a try, a conversion and a penalty. The third Test also went the way of the tourists, with the '99' call being immortalised in a game christened 'the battle of Boet Erasmus'.
Australia 18-19 British & Irish Lions, third Test, Sydney Football Stadium, Sydney, July 15, 1989
The Lions and Wallabies were tied at one Test apiece as they arrived at Sydney Football Stadium, with Ian McGeechan's tourists in with a chance of their first series win since 1974. The game was maddeningly tight, the teams tied at 9-9 at half-time.
The decisive moment in the game came late on - and was a gut-wrenching lapse from great Australian wing David Campese. When the ball landed in-goal from a Lions kick, instead of grounding Campese set off with a mind to counter-attack, only to be confronted by Lions wing Ieuan Evans. He popped a pass to fullback Greg Martin, who was unaware of his intentions as the ball hit him on the shoulder and bounced back in-goal. Evans pounced to score and secure the Test series for the Lions.
South Africa 16-25 British & Irish Lions, first Test, Newlands, Cape Town, June 21, 1997
Having won the World Cup on home soil two years earlier, the Springboks were expected to take apart Ian McGeechan's Lions. The Lions, producing a level of team-work an camaraderie that showed the final vestiges of the amateur game, were not to be denied however and produced one of the most memorable Test series victories.
In the first Test at Newlands, the home side were two tries in front but failed to pull clear due to the kicking of Welshman Neil Jenkins, playing at fullback. England scrum-half Matt Dawson made the most of his Test chance with one of the most famous dummies in history to draw the Lions ahead with a stunning try before wing Alan Tait made the game safe with a late try.
South Africa 15-18 British & Irish Lions, second Test, Kings Park Stadium, Durban, June 28, 1997
Jenkins was again the Springboks' tormentor, landing five penalties to leave the scores tied heading in to the final moments. The home side should have been out of sight after tries from Joost van der Westhuizen, Percy Montgomery and Andre Joubert, but their profligacy with the boot allowed the Lions to stay in contention.
With time ticking away, the ball was fired back to Lions centre Jeremy Guscott, who, fancying a shot at immortality, popped over a drop-goal to seal the series for the tourists.
Australia 13-29 British & Irish Lions, first Test, The Gabba, Brisbane, June 30, 2001
With Graham Henry's Lions the first to bring the touring concept bang up to date with professionalism, his policy of hard training and invasive monitoring of the players looked to have worked following their first Test victory over the Australians at the Gabba.
Welsh duo Dafydd James and Scott Quinnell both breached the Wallaby defence, as did English flyer Jason Robinson but the abiding memory of the game came from Ireland centre Brian O'Driscoll. His try has been replayed countless times since the day, being dubbed "trademark O'Driscoll" for the devastating jag through the defence and his electric pace to take him clear. The tour will not go down as a classic after descending into a media-fuelled farce, but this was the last Test that the Lions won - and wasn't it a wonderful feeling?