LIONS V AUSTRALIA: A HISTORY

Well, it’s almost upon us! In just over a week (Sat. 1st June) the 2013 Lions begin their tour, with a match against the Barbarians in Hong Kong. The Lions then move on to Australia, where they will play 9 matches, from June 5th up until July 6th.

 

Of the 9 matches, 5 will be against the top provincial sides in Australia, while 3 will be test matches. This tour will be the 29th such tour since the Lions’ inception in 1888, but only the 4th tour exclusively to Australia.

 

The first full Lions tour to Australia took place in 1899. They played 21 matches, and lost 3, including the 1st test. They travelled out by boat and the journey took about 7 weeks, longer than the whole of this year’s tour!

 

The 1899 Lions would become the first Lions squad to include players from Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales (though they would be referred to as the ‘English football team’!).

 

RUGBY IN AUSTRALIA

This would be the last full Lions tour for 90 years, though. Rugby in Australia soon suffered a decline in fortunes. It would become overshadowed by other sports like Rugby League and Australian Rules Football.

 

Rugby’s growth in Australia also suffered when a number of players enlisted in both World Wars (in fact, there was a touring Australian team over in England when the 2nd World War started in 1939, and all the touring Wallabies joined up).

 

Australia weren’t deemed strong enough to host a full Lions tour, instead the Lions would play a few ‘warm-up’ games there, before moving on to tougher matches in New Zealand.

 

Rugby’s fortunes in Australia took an upswing in the 1980’s when a touring Australian team beat all 4 of the Home Unions (Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales) to achieve a first ever Grand Slam by a touring team!

 

Austtralia’s change in fortunes were helped by a number of great players coming together at the same time. A strong pack of forwards was augmented by talented backs like, the Ella brothers, Nick Farr-Jones, Michael Lynagh and David Campese.

 

When the Lions finally bowed to public opinion and ended ties to South Africa they suddenly had a window in their schedule. With Australia’s growing prowess in rugby the Lions committee decided to plan a tour there for 1989. The Australian’s agreed.

 

1989 LIONS TOUR

The 1989 Lions squad would become the best Lions team since the legendary Lions teams of the ‘70’s. They were coached by Ian McGeechan, the first of 5 tours McGeechan would coach! They would play 12 games, including 3 tests.

 

With England and Scotland the dominant teams at the time, they constituted the bulk of the squad, with 10 and 9 players respectively, Wales had 8, and Ireland 4. The tour was captained by Finlay Calder, whose twin Jim had toured New Zealand in 1983.  

 

The Lions dominated in the forwards, with 6 of the English pack who would go on to win 2 Grand Slams in the next 4 seasons! Players like Dean Richards, Brian Moore and Mike Teague would become stars of the series.

 

The English players would be backed up by captain Calder, at flanker, and David Sole (who would lead Scotland to a Grand Slam, beating England in 1990) at prop. Wales’s Dai Young would be the other prop, and would go on to play for the Lions in Rugby League.

 

Though the backs were somewhat overlooked, there was still some enormous talent there. Gavin Hastings at full back, is still considered the best player ever to play for Scotland. His brother Scott was a teak-tough centre, one of the best defenders ever.

 

The wings were Ieuan Evans and Rory Underwood, both on Rugby’s top try scorers list, Evans with 34, and Underwood with 50. Evans would go on to score the winning try of the test series.

 

England’s Rob Andrew was a late call-up to the side, and played in the second 2 tests at out-half. Robert Jones was a terrific scrum-half, probably the best since fellow Welsh-man Gareth Edwards. There was one back would back become a legendary player.

 

Jeremy Guscott had been a star for Bath but had only played one test for England (against Romania where he scored 3 tries), when he was called-up as a replacement for his England centre partner Will Carling.

 

Guscott would star in the final 2 tests (he scored a classy try in the 2nd test), which would begin a glittery career for the Lions. He played in all 3 tests on the following 2 Lions tours (New Zealand, 1993) and South Africa, ‘97, where he scored the winning drop-goal.

 

The 4 Irish Lions had differing experiences: out-half Paul Deans was injured in the very first match, and had to leave the tour (and retired from rugby soon after). Deans was replaced by Rob Andrew.

 

Hooker Steve Smith played well but he was always going to be understudy to England’s Moore, one of the best hookers around at the time. Brendan Mullin played in the 1st test at centre, but was replaced Guscott in the final 2 tests.

 

Donal Lenihan would become legendary for his contribution. He became the captain of the mid-week side/dirt-trackers (the Lions team that play the less important games), and the team were christened ‘Donal’s Donuts’!

 

Often in a Lions tour, the players who are not picked for the tougher, more high profile games, can become despondent and squad morale suffers. Lenihan is credited with keeping his player’s spirits up which added to the success of the tour.

 

The Lions were undefeated going into the first test, having won all 6 games played so far, but would prove to be overconfident, and were thrashed by Australia 30-12, all the Lion’s points been kicked by Hastings.

 

The Lions bounced back with a win against the Australian Capital Territories (one of the best teams in Australia), and went into the 2nd test more fired up. They made 5 changes to the team, with Teague, Andrew, Guscott and Scott Hastings all making their debuts.

 

During the tour the Lions had gained a reputation for rough-play, with players often intimidating the opposition (some believe that the Lions were just showing that they weren’t going to be manhandled by the Wallabies).

 

The 2nd test proved to be the height of their rough play, with fights breaking out numerous times during the game. The Lions showed their class though, with 2 great tries, by Gavin Hastings and Jeremy Guscott, to win the 2nd test, 19-12.

 

It was all to play for in the last test, and the match was very close, finishing 19-18, in the Lions’ favour. It was a mistake by the legendary David Campese which gifted Ieuan Evans the winning try.

 

The Lions would go on to win their last 2 games, and finish the tour having won 10 games out of 12. While the Lions overall dominated the provincial sides, Australia kept them close in the Test series, proving they were the equals of the Lions.

 

The bulk of that Australian side would go on to win the World Cup in 1991, beating England in the final. Australia would repeat that feat in 1999, this time overwhelming France, which was could preparation against the Lions team, due to tour in 2001.

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