Lions versus Springboks: The history of the British and Irish Lions in South Africa


With the British and Irish Lions as a result of tour South Africa in June of this yr, I assumed it might be a superb time to take a short look into the historical past of Lions excursions to South Africa.

The Lions and South African rugby have been inextricably linked since rugby first turned a sport in South Africa. The Lions additionally tour New Zealand and Australia however right here I’ll consider their excursions to South Africa.

The South Africa Rugby Board (later Union) was first shaped in 1889 and it rapidly set about sending out an invite for a European workforce to tour their nation. A workforce made up of gamers from England and Scotland had toured New Zealand in 1888 and it was thought {that a} comparable tour would assist popularise the sport of rugby in South Africa. The invite was accepted and the tour was organized to happen in 1891.

These proto-Lions (though not technically a British and Irish Lions squad these groups have been subsequently included in each official historical past of the Lions) had been the primary worldwide aspect to play rugby matches in South Africa and the three-match Take a look at collection was the primary Take a look at collection performed by the Lions, and the primary ever worldwide rugby matches performed by South Africa.

Though the Lions weren’t made up of the most effective gamers round at the moment (the Lions at all times had issue when it comes to choice as a result of many gamers declining the invitation to journey as a result of monetary and household constraints), with solely 9 full caps among the many 20 gamers chosen, with two gamers successful additional caps, they nonetheless proved too robust for the South African gamers, who in 20 video games solely scored a single level in opposition to the guests. The Lions completed the tour with 20 wins from 20 video games, together with the three-Take a look at collection in opposition to South Africa. Amazingly, these 20 video games had been performed over a time span of solely 30 days!

The star for the Lions was big centre Randolph Aston, who scored 30 tries on tour (though a strive on the time was solely price one level). Earlier than setting sail, tour captain Invoice McGlagan was introduced with a trophy by a delivery magnet. This trophy was to be introduced to the workforce that achieved the most effective consequence in opposition to the Lions on tour. The delivery magnet was Sir Donald Currie and the trophy turned often known as the Currie Cup, which is competed for by the South African provinces yearly. The 1891 winners of the Cup had been Griqualand West, who had conceded the bottom factors of the groups enjoying in opposition to the Lions, shedding 3-0.

When Jonny Hammond returned to South Africa with the Lions in 1896, this time as captain, he would have been amazed by the enhancements made in rugby within the nation within the interim 5 years. The Lions nonetheless received 19 of the 21 video games performed on tour, however in addition they conceded the primary ever defeat by a Lions workforce. This was within the third Take a look at in opposition to South Africa. This sport was additionally the primary worldwide received by South Africa, and likewise the primary match during which South Africa would put on their iconic darkish inexperienced jerseys.

The South African captain was ‘Fergie’ Aston, the youthful brother of Randolph Aston, who had been the highest strive scorer for the Lions on the earlier tour. The 1896 Lions aspect was made up of gamers from England and Eire this time. They weren’t to know that they’d be the final Lions workforce to win a collection in South Africa till 1974!

Jonny Hammond made one other journey to South Africa with the Lions, in 1903, this time as coach. By now, South Africa had been not the pupils and the Lions discovered the rugby a lot tougher going. Of the 22 video games performed by the Lions, they received solely 11, with eight defeats and three video games drawn. Additionally they conceded the Take a look at collection for the primary time, with South Africa successful one Take a look at and drawing the others.

There was fairly a uniquely Scottish really feel to the primary Take a look at. Not solely was the Lions captain Mark Morrison a Scotsman, however so was the South African captain Alex Frew, who had truly performed underneath Morrison when Scotland received the 4 Nations in 1901, earlier than he emigrated to South Africa. And for the treble, the referee himself – Invoice Donaldson – was additionally Scottish!

(Picture by Fox Photographs/Getty Pictures)

Earlier than the Lions had been subsequent to tour, in 1910, South Africa launched into their first ever tour of Europe. This was the tour the place they’d first tog out with the long-lasting Springbok emblem on their jerseys. South Africa performed 29 video games on this tour, successful 26, with two misplaced and one drawn. They performed all 5 Nations on tour, beating Eire, Wales and France, shedding to Scotland and drawing with England.

The Lions workforce that toured South Africa in 1910 was the strongest Lions choice but, that includes various full internationals from Eire, England, Scotland and Wales. The Lions additionally had an Australian of their ranks, the multi-talented Tom Richards, whose title has entered immortality, because the trophy awarded within the Lions collection in opposition to Australia is called after him. Richards is the one man to ever play worldwide rugby for each Australia and the Lions. Regardless of the calibre of their aspect, the 1910 Lions nonetheless misplaced the Take a look at collection, 3-1. Total, the Lions performed 24 matches, successful 13, drawing three and shedding eight.

The 1910 tour could be the final Lions tour earlier than the primary World Warfare broke out in 1914. A number of rugby gamers from all over the world would serve with distinction on this horrible battle.

The Lions subsequent tour could be to South Africa, in 1924. This is able to be the primary tour given the official title of the British Isles Rugby Union Group. They might quickly be christened ‘the Lions’ by the press. Sadly these gamers would fail to dwell as much as their moniker as they’d be the primary Lions workforce that may win much less video games than they misplaced or drew. Out of 21 video games performed, the Lions received 9, misplaced 9 and drew three. The Lions confronted the same old issues of being underrepresented and the South Africans merely being too good.

One participant that declined the invitation to tour was Scottish wing, Eric Liddell. Liddell as an alternative competed in that yr’s Olympic Video games, the place he would win medals and his story would later be immortalised within the nice movie, Chariots Of Fireplace. A participant that did tour was Stanley Harris. This superb man was born in South Africa however raised in England. He achieved worldwide standing in 5 totally different sports activities. He had been supplied a spot on the 1920 Olympics workforce however selected rugby as an alternative.

Olympic flag

(Picture by Fabrice Coffrini/AFP by way of Getty Pictures)

Returning to South Africa he turned the nation’s gentle heavyweight boxing champion and the runner up within the heavyweight division. Whereas injured in a rugby trial again in England, he took up ballroom dancing and received a medal within the World Newbie Championships. Returning to rugby, he performed in 15 video games on the 1924 Lions tour, together with two Exams. He was additionally a global at tennis and water polo. And he additionally fought in each World Wars with distinction and was later awarded an OBE and CBE.

The Lions final tour earlier than World Warfare two was in 1938, once more to South Africa. The South African workforce they confronted would have a authentic declare to being the most effective workforce on the planet, having crushed New Zealand and Australia the earlier yr on tour. The Lions had been once more weakened by a number of of the highest gamers of the time declaring themselves unavailable. Of the 29 that toured, solely 18 had achieved full cap standing. Regardless of this, the Lions nonetheless managed to win 17 of the 24 video games performed, together with a win within the final Take a look at, however they’d once more concede the Take a look at collection.

This win was the primary in a Lions Take a look at in opposition to South Africa since 1910. It was additionally the primary win for the Lions in six Exams general. The Lions received the primary Take a look at, 21-16, which was their greatest rating achieved in opposition to the Springboks as much as that time. The win got here as such a shock that when it was reported again in Europe, many thought the consequence a mistake and printed it as a win for South Africa! Enjoying in opposition to the Lions within the Take a look at collection was the nice Danie Craven, who would go on to be probably the most necessary figures within the historical past of South African rugby.

The Lions subsequent toured South Africa in 1955. They might be the primary Lions squad to journey by air and would obtain the excellence by drawing the collection, the most effective consequence by a Lions workforce since earlier than 1900. It was additionally the primary dwelling collection that South Africa didn’t win in that very same interval. The Lions included a few of the greats of world rugby, like Cliff Morgan and the very younger Irish wing Tony O’Reilly. O’Reilly had simply left college when chosen to go on tour. He would greater than show his choice by changing into the Lions high ever strive scorer and would play within the subsequent ten consecutive Exams for the Lions, over two excursions.

Cliff Morgan was among the best scrumhalves of any time and likewise an achieved singer. Whereas journeying to South Africa, he taught his teammates songs in English, Welsh and even Afrikaaner. After touching down in South Africa, the Lions gave an impromptu singing efficiency and the South African press lauded them as the most effective Lions squad to ever tour South Africa. And this was earlier than that they had performed a single sport! The Take a look at collection was probably the most exhausting fought in historical past, with the primary Take a look at being received by a single level. This Take a look at match was performed in entrance of a then-record crowd of 95,000. The 1955 Lions would draw the Take a look at collection, with two wins and two defeats.

The Lions once more toured South Africa in 1962. The ’60s would show to be a really troublesome time for the Lions. That decade, the Lions performed 14 Exams general, and received solely two, in opposition to Australia. The Lions would lose ten of the remaining Exams and draw two. Whereas they did lose the collection, the 1962 Lions did obtain some good outcomes, successful 15 of the 26 video games performed, shedding 5 and drawing 4. The best loss in opposition to them was within the final Take a look at, the place South Africa received 34-14. Captain of the tour was Arthur Smith, who would obtain considerably higher success as supervisor of the long-lasting 1971 Lions in New Zealand.

One other participant on tour was the younger Irish second row, Willie John McBride. This was the primary the Lions would see of the legendary Irishman, however definitely not the final. McBride would go on to tour with the Lions a record-equalling 5 instances in all and obtain a Take a look at report of 17 caps, a report that may by no means be crushed.

McBride was among the many Lions gamers to subsequent tour South Africa, in 1968. Additionally included within the squad was the mercurial Scottish flanker Jim Telfer, who would return to South Africa with the Lions 29 years later as assistant coach. Two of the halfbacks chosen had been Barry John and Gareth Edwards. The 2 iconic Welshmen had been unable have a lot affect on this Take a look at collection, each being injured early within the tour, however they’d make their mark on the Lions on subsequent excursions. Captain of the tour was the Irishman Tom Kiernan, who kicked nearly all of the Lions factors within the Take a look at collection. The solitary strive got here from Willie John McBride.

A general view of a lineout at sunset

(Picture by Richard Heathcote – World Rugby by way of Getty Pictures)

Two Lions would go on to make rugby historical past on the 1968 tour. Irishman Barry Bresnihan turned the primary substitute utilized by the Lions in a match when he got here on for an injured Mike Gibson early within the tour. And Gibson would recuperate to turn into the primary substitute utilized in a global rugby match when he got here on for Barry John within the first Take a look at.

The subsequent time the Lions toured South Africa was in 1974 and these Lions have gone down in historical past as probably the most profitable rugby touring workforce in fashionable historical past, identified endlessly extra as ‘the Invincibles’. Enjoying 22 video games, they received 21 and drew the final, which was the final Take a look at. They gathered a large 729 factors and inflicted on South Africa their first dwelling collection defeat since 1896.

A lot of the ’74 Lions had taken half within the historic Lions collection win in opposition to the All Blacks in 1971 and would go on to be recognised as a few of the best rugby gamers ever. JPR Williams, Gareth Edwards, Mervyn Davies, McBride, Gordon Brown and Ian ‘Mighty Mouse’ McLauchlan performed within the Take a look at collection on each excursions. They had been ably assisted within the collection in opposition to South Africa by Welsh flyer JJ Williams, the incomparable Phil Bennett at scrumhalf, Irish flanker Fergus Slattery (who had toured in ’71 however not appeared within the Take a look at collection) and the nice Bobby Windsor at hooker.

Two different gamers that performed a most important half within the Take a look at collection had been English prop Fran Cotton and Scottish centre Ian McGeechan. Each would return with the Lions to South Africa 24 years later. Like many current excursions to South Africa, the 1974 Lions had been threatened with boycott with many believing all ties ought to be minimize with South Africa as a result of hateful apartheid regime. Two Lions that had toured in 1968, John Taylor and Gerald Davies, refused to tour in 1974. Then again, there have been some who believed that the Lions ought to tour and see for themselves the horrible results of apartheid.

The Lions had been celebrated by the black South Africans wherever they performed, and the Lions would usually acknowledge the help they obtained within the segregated stadiums. The black South Africans noticed the Lions’ victories as blows to the apartheid regime because the South African rugby workforce on the time was seen as an virtually bodily manifestation of apartheid. Nelson Mandela subsequently talked about how he and his fellow prisoners would cheer on the Lions whereas incarcerated on Robben Island, a lot to the annoyance of their Afrikaners guards, listening to the video games on the wi-fi.

The 1980 Lions confronted comparable outcry to their touring from governments and anti-apartheid protestors, however these objections had been considerably muted as a result of US boycott of the Moscow Summer time Olympics that very same yr. English second row Invoice Beaumont, who had led England to their first Grand Slam since 1957 earlier that yr, was captain.

World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont and vice-chairman Agustin Pichot

Invoice Beaumont (left) has gone on to a profession in administration. (Andrew Redington/Getty Pictures)

The Lions had an incredible report within the provincial video games, successful all, however got here undone within the Take a look at collection, shedding three and successful just one. Their closing report of enjoying 18, successful 15 and shedding three was excellent, all issues thought of. The shorter variety of video games was testomony to how powerful the Lions excursions had turn into.

Two South Africans who performed a component within the Springboks’ Take a look at win had been scrumhalf Naas Botha, who would go on to be recognised as one of many sport’s greatest kickers, and Morne du Plessis, who would go on to handle South Africa to their first World Cup victory 15 years later.

The Lions had been subsequent to tour South Africa in 1986, however gave in to worldwide stress and cancelled the tour. There have been two matches held that yr during which South African gamers had been invited to attend: the Lions in opposition to the Remainder of the World and a 5 Nations workforce versus a World XV. The video games had been held to have fun the centenary of the founding of the Worldwide Rugby Board.

South Africa was now minimize off from the remainder of the rugby-playing world, though a workforce from New Zealand did settle for cash to participate in a clandestine tour of the nation, a lot to the annoyance and disgust of their residents. This tour was by no means recognised formally. Then the primary World Cup was held in 1987, and South Africa actually felt its isolation from world rugby. There have been some all over the world who requested whether or not the World Cup could possibly be thought of a real worldwide competitors with the absence of certainly one of rugby’s heavyweights.

Then issues modified for the higher in South Africa. Nelson Mandela was launched from jail in 1990 and would later be elected president of South Africa in 1994, and the apartheid regime was dismantled.

Joost van der Westhuizen passes the ball

Joost van der Westhuizen on the 1995 World Cup. (Picture by Clive Mason/Getty Pictures)

South Africa was welcomed again to worldwide rugby and hosted the third World Cup in 1995, which they subsequently received, with the long-lasting image of South African president Mandela handing the trophy to captain Francois Pienaar. South Africa now acquired able to welcome the Lions for the primary time in 17 years.

The 1997 Lions would take their place as one of many high Lions groups. The workforce contained some future legends of the sport. Martin Johnson was captain, and he would lead England to their first and solely World Cup title six years later. He had fellow future World Cup winner Lawrence Dallaglio within the again row. There was additionally Irish hooker Keith Wooden. At centre had been the strong Scott Gibbs, certainly one of a number of gamers getting back from rugby league, and the chic Jeremy Guscott, who kicked the successful drop aim to clinch the collection within the second Take a look at. Enjoying out of place at fullback was Welshman Neil Jenkins, who would kick many of the Lions’ factors.

South Africa had been in a transitional interval when the Lions visited. They had been with out their inspirational captain and coach, Francois Pienaar and Kitch Christie, who had each performed such an necessary function within the Springboks lifting the World Cup in 1995.

Though fielding a robust aspect in opposition to the Lions, together with the good Joost van der Westhuizen and the enormous prop Os du Randt, who would win an extra World Cup medal in 2007, they had been with no recognised goal-kicker within the collection. Though Percy Montgomery made his debut within the collection and would go on to be probably the most prolific factors scorers in World Rugby, he was not at that stage in his profession but. The Springboks restored some satisfaction in successful the final Take a look at, 35-16, however by then the collection was misplaced.

The 2000s had been a troublesome time for the Lions. They received the primary Take a look at in 2001 in opposition to Australia. On a really small be aware, that is the primary tour during which the Lions had been first referred to formally because the British and Irish Lions. Earlier than, they had been merely the British Lions. However they’d go on to lose that collection 2-1, after which the Lions had been clean-swept by New Zealand within the Take a look at collection in 2005.

When the Lions touched down in South Africa in 2009, they appeared to have the way forward for the model of their palms. Many rugby individuals had been questioning the necessity for persevering with the Lions excursions within the skilled period, and one other damaging defeat could be seen because the the nail within the coffin for the Lions idea. Though shedding a hard-fought collection 2-1, the ’09 Lions restored some a lot wanted satisfaction to the badge, giving their all and successful the final Take a look at, in opposition to a South African workforce that had been as soon as once more world champions in 2007.

The Lions return to South Africa in 2021 with Alun Wyn-Jones as captain. He’s the one survivor of the 2009 Lions workforce.

Alun Wyn Jones of the British & Irish Lions

(Picture by David Rogers/Getty Pictures)

He leads a Lions squad filled with terrific gamers who’re scheduled to tackle 5 golf equipment and a South African workforce which can be as soon as once more world champions, having received their third World Cup in 2019. It’s certain to be an exquisite Take a look at collection and can take its place among the many nice excursions of the final 130 years.

The Lions are a singular sport in rugby nation. The concept gamers from 4 totally different international locations, that spend most of their time battling lumps out of one another, can come collectively underneath one badge and unite is a superb factor. So long as there may be rugby performed, it’s hoped that the British and Irish Lions will proceed.

I gained my of my info in writing this text from two fantastic books on the Lions. The primary is the marvellous The Historical past Of the British and Irish Lions, by Clem and Greg Thomas, which covers every Lions tour in exhaustive element.

The second e-book is Behind the Lions, which has a short abstract of every tour and the ideas and opinions of these gamers and administration that took half.

I additionally gained some nice insights from the terrific Rugby’s Most Weird Moments by John Griffiths, which supplies some fascinating and infrequently hilarious occurrences, which have taken place in rugby matches over time, from 1871 to this point. All three are fantastic reads and I extremely advocate them.


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