Scrum Sevens
Give 'em the boot
Huw Baines
June 3, 2009
Neil Jenkins of the British and Irish Lions and Wales kicks a penalty during the second test with South Africa, South Africa v British and Irish Lions, Third Test, Ellis Park, July 5 1997.
Neil Jenkins' boot helped the Lions to victory over South Africa in 1997 © Getty Images

Winning a Lions tour, as the history books have shown, is extremely difficult. Since World War Two only four touring sides have managed it, in New Zealand in 1971, South Africa in 1974, Australia in 1989 and South Africa again in 1997, and they all had one common denominator: a deadly goalkicker.

Some of the Lions' highest scorers toiled in losing tours however, and certain squads were condemned by their inability to convert their chances in front of the posts. In 1924 Ronald Cove-Smith's Lions lost two goalkicking fullbacks to injury before the squad left and their final option Tom Holliday lasted only one game - they converted only 10 of 43 tries on tour and scored four penalties in 21 games, losing the Test series 3-0.

This year, Ian McGeechan, who played on one and coached two of the victorious post-war Lions sides, has placed huge emphasis on the squad's kicking ability with Stephen Jones, Ronan O'Gara, Leigh Halfpenny and James Hook all front-line goalkickers. They could learn something from this lot.

Jonny Wilkinson - 2001 & 2005 - Six Tests and 116 points

The leading points scorer in Test history, Jonny Wilkinson also tops the bill for the Lions in Tests. A tourist in Australia in 2001 and New Zealand in 2005, Wilkinson landed his points on two of the most heavily-maligned Lions tours in history.

Under the (very) watchful eye of Graham Henry in 2001 Wilkinson helped himself to 18 points in the second Test against the Wallabies in Sydney, a total that he bettered only once in the ill-fated 'home' Test match against Argentina at the Millennium Stadium in 2005.

Wilkinson failed to hit the points-scoring heights under the tutelage of Clive Woodward in 2005 - his chronic injury problems limiting him to three appearances in New Zealand - against Wellington and the first two of the ill-fated Test matches.

Gavin Hastings - 1989 & 1993 - Six Tests and 167 points

Scotland fullback Hastings was an ever-present in Tests for the Lions between 1989 and 1993, taking the captaincy as they controversially fell short in New Zealand in 1993. In 1989 his booming boot helped the tourists to a famous series victory in Australia and while he originally shared the kicking with English fly-half Rob Andrew, it was his 15 point contribution in the third Test at Sydney Football Stadium that rubber-stamped the series victory.

Four years later he was in charge, and he duly claimed his largest Test haul with 18 points in the first Test at Lancaster Park. The Lions lost the match 20-18 thanks to a Frank Bunce try and the boot of Grant Fox and while Hastings again chipped in in the second Test victory all was lost when the third Test ended in failure.

Phil Bennett - 1974 & 1977 - Eight Tests and 228 points

One of the iconic figures in Welsh rugby's 1970s heyday, Phil Bennett continued a fine tradition of Welsh fly-halves for the Lions. In 1974 he duly took his place among Willie-John McBride's "Invincibles", kicking 101 points as the Lions went unbeaten for 22 games on tour in South Africa. He scored a try in the second Test victory over the Springboks and kept the home side at bay with his boot despite a gash to his instep.

In 1977 he was handed the captaincy after No.8 Mervyn Davies was forced to retire due to a brain haemorrhage, and despite not being able to replicate the winning feats of 1974 he was again a deadly marksman with the boot - outdoing his total of three years earlier and scoring 125 points.

Neil Jenkins - 1997 & 2001 - Four Tests and 142 points

The most famous kick of the victorious Lions tour of South Africa came from the boot of centre Jeremy Guscott - his drop-goal winning the second Test 18-15 and clinching the series. However, it was Welsh fly-half Neil Jenkins, playing out of position at fullback, whose metronomic kicking kept the Lions' noses in front under huge pressure from the Springboks.

Gregor Townsend took the No.10 jersey for the first two Tests but despite his move to the last line of defence the importance of Jenkins' kicking cannot be understated. He wasn't the most flash fly-half, he wasn't the most secure fullback but in the red of Wales and the Lions he was a points machine and deserves to be remembered alongside the greats.

Tom Kiernan - 1962 & 1968 - Five Tests and 84 points

Lions history is riddled with near-misses, and no player will feel that more clearly than Irish fullback Tom Kiernan who put in a captain's display in South Africa in 1968. Kiernan's record in a Lions shirt reads four losses and a draw - all against the Springboks - yet in the first Test in 1968 he did all he could to change that.

His biggest points haul in a Lions Test came in from of 74,000 at Loftus Versfeld, 17 points coming off his instep along with a try from Willie-John McBride. The Boks were too good however, tries from Dawie de Villiers, Frik du Preez and Tiny Naude putting paid to Kiernan's crusade.

Barry John - 1968 & 1971 - Five Tests and 191 points

In 1968, Wales fly-half Barry John saw his Lions tour ended early by injury and his points scoring was limited to nothing by the accuracy of his skipper Kiernan. In 1971 however, their tour of New Zealand became the Barry John show.

The mercurial fly-half, playing outside Gareth Edwards, produced the most scintillating form of his all-too-short career as the Lions recorded their first, and only, Test match victory on New Zealand soil. His 191 points on tour came from six tries, 27 penalties, 31 conversions and eight drop goals from 19 starts. Along with his place kicking, John terrorised the New Zealand back three with the high ball and scored one of his most famous tries, dummying a drop goal before scything through the All Blacks defence, in the third Test. Truly the King.

Stewart Wilson - 1966 - Five Tests and 90 points

Scotland fullback Stewart Wilson is not the most famous of names in Lions circles, but his performance with the boot on the 1966 tour of Australia and New Zealand entered him in to the record books for a time.

Wilson played one Test against Australia and four against the All Blacks on tour, kicking 30 points in Tests and becoming the highest Lions points scorer. His conversion rate was so good for the Lions that his 90 points from 21 appearances by far eclipses the 68 points he scored in 22 games for Scotland.


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