? The British Lions Highlights3rd July 2020 |
The concept continued to develop in the 1950s and 60s, particularly the gladiatorial nature of the contest. The merger of four nations for one purpose came to be seen as a glorious quest whilst the host nation thrived on defending its honour.
The tours were becoming a thrilling spectacle that drew huge crowds to the grounds and increased attention back home in Britain and Ireland.
And then, in the 1970s, following two titanic tussles with the toughest opponents of all, the legend of the Lions truly burst onto the wider sporting scene.
1971 – Success in New Zealand
This tour not only witnessed an historic first series win against the All Blacks, it also remains the only time that the Lions have tasted victory in New Zealand, and it was a triumph that was dreamed of, conceived and engineered in Wales.
Carwyn James, arguably the greatest Lions coach of them all, inspired and planned the success off the field, whilst Gareth Edwards, Mervyn Davies, Gerald Davies, JPR Williams, captain John Dawes and, most brilliantly, fly half Barry John added flair and brilliance on it. The test series was won 3-0 with the final test drawn.
In an intriguing footnote, the famous 1973 match between the Barbarians and the All Blacks at Cardiff Arms Park was widely deemed to be an ad-hoc “fifth test”. The Lions, dressed as Baa-Baas, won that match, too.
1974 – The Invincibles
Buoyed by the success in New Zealand, but aware of the intense physical threat of South African provincial and national teams, who were more than willing to indulge in dirty tricks, the Lions captain Willie John McBride conceived the “99 call”. If any Lion was the recipient of violence, the call would be made and every Lion would retaliate, the theory being that no referee would send off all 15 players in red.
The notion of “one for all and all for one” bonded the squad who went unbeaten on the tour and repeated the 1971 test scoreline, winning 3-0 with a draw in the fourth game. Phil Bennett replaced Barry John in union with Gareth Edwards at half back and the speed of wing JJ Williams was well-suited to the fast, dry pitches.
1989 – Bounce Back
This was still the amateur days, but the tour was the first of the modern era in terms of scheduling with just 12 matches compared to the 25 of 1971. It was also important in maintaining the Lions’ roar, because after the early triumphs of the 1970s three consecutive series had been fruitless, a run that included a withering ten defeats in 12 matches.
Yet another beating, by 30 points to 12, in the first test did not bode well. It was the heaviest loss in Lions history and none of their predecessors had recovered from 1-0 down. But, inspired by the rugged Scottish captain Finlay Calder and the boot of English fly-half Rob Andrew, the Lions turned the series around, completing victory with a 19-18 success in Sydney.
1997 – Living with Lions
The first Lions tour of the professional era and with it came the production of a documentary that took fans behind the scenes. ‘Living with Lions’ provided remarkably vivid insight as the squad took on the reigning World Cup holders South Africa.
Few gave the Lions much hope of repeating the 1974 success, but the players not only bonded exceptionally well, they also produced a dynamic brand of rugby.
“They don ’t rate us and they don’t respect us,” barked coach Jim Telfer in a famous pre-first test speech. The Lions responded to his words, winning the first two games and with it the series.
2013 – Victory Down Under
For three tours at the start of the 21st century the Lions failed to marry the excellence of the English 2003 World Cup-winning team with the finest talent of the other nations, clocking up a hat trick of series defeats, including a painful 3-0 drubbing at the hands of the All Blacks in 2005 when coached by Clive Woodward, architect of that RWC glory.
Redemption was provided by another Welsh-inspired squad in 2013. They were coached by Warren Gatland, originally captained by Sam Warburton, he was replaced (after injury) by Alun Wyn Jones, Leigh Halfpenny kicked the points and George North headed the try-scoring in a 2-1 win that was clinched in emphatic style 41-16 in Sydney.
2017 – All Black Stalemate
The Gatland-Warburton union returned and had to face an All Black unit that had won the previous two World Cups. Playing a much-reduced schedule the Lions lost two of their six warm-ups matches, the first test and then drew the another provincial game.
Squad unity was high, however, and it turned the tour fortunes around with a 24-21 victory in the second test which was undoubtedly aided by the early sending off of Sonny Bill Williams. New Zealand scored the only tries of the final test, but deadly kicking by Owen Farrell helped the Lions secure a draw in both the match and the series.
Article Written by Matt Cooper
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