5 Greatest Lions Test Matches Of All Time

The first Test of the 2021 British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa gets underway on Saturday and we take a look at five of the best matches of all time.

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Every four years, the best players from Great Britain and Ireland come together to form a touring side to take on the Southern Hemisphere’s finest.

In fact, like four years ago in New Zealand, the British & Lions are again preparing to face the world champions with the first match of their three-Test series against South Africa scheduled for Cape Town on Saturday.

Thrilling, frustrating, and often everything in between, these series always leave fans, pundits and players wanting more.

Here is our countdown of the five best Lions Test matches of all time.

5. 1971 – Fourth Test – New Zealand 14-14 Lions

The concluding contest in a mammoth 26-match tour that also featured a couple of outings in Australia, the fourth Test in New Zealand in 1971 saw the Lions mark a unique achievement in their history: win a series in New Zealand.

Having triumphed in Dunedin and Wellington, either side of a defeat in Christchurch, Auckland was the scene for one of the most thrilling and violent games of rugby ever seen.

Like in 2017, the final Test in Auckland ended in a draw to hand the tourists a 2-1 series victory, but this match at Eden Park produced so much more.

The teams battered each other into submission, but the Lions, built around that year’s Welsh Grand Slam winners, including Gareth Edwards, Barry John and JPR Williams, saw out the game to make history.

4. 2017 – Second Test – New Zealand 21-24 Lions

After losing the opener 30-15, the tourists had no option but to level the series on a miserable night in Wellington.

Warren Gatland wasted little time in ringing the changes, with Maro Itoje, Sam Warburton and Johnny Sexton all coming in and excelling.

The defining moment arguably came in the first half when Sonny Bill Williams saw red for a no-arms tackle on Anthony Watson, but that did little to quell the intensity with the sides throwing everything at each other.

Despite their man deficit, the All Blacks led for the majority of the match, only for Conor Murray’s converted try to level the scores at 21-21 with 12 minutes remaining.

The momentum was now with the Lions, and with three minutes remaining, Charlie Faumuina was penalised for tackling Kyle Sinckler in the air. Owen Farrell, who shone in the centre after being replaced by Sexton at fly-half, slotted between the posts to force a series decider.

3. 2001 – Third Test – Australia 29-23 Lions

In 2001, the Lions again found themselves facing the world champions as Graham Henry (who would be successful four years later with New Zealand) led the tour to Australia.

After a convincing opening Test win in Brisbane, the Wallabies hit back in Melbourne to set up a showdown at Sydney’s iconic Stadium Australia, the venue for the previous year’s Olympics.

Centre Daniel Herbert, arguably the standout player throughout the series, grabbed both of Australia’s tries, while Matt Burke, at that time the world’s greatest goalkicker, added 19 points with his trusty right boot.

The Wallaby defence was magnificent that night, but there were also allegations of subterfuge. Justin Harrison’s, who had previously been labelled a “plank” by Austin Healey, line-out steal at the depth lead to headlines claiming that the Lions’ training sessions had been spied on!

Even so, the 2001 series was thrilling throughout, and older rugby fans perhaps yearn to see a Wallabies team as good as that era.

2. 1997 – First Test – South Africa 16-25 Lions

The first series of the professional era, the 1997 Tour to South Africa, set the benchmark for what was to come.

While the image of Jeremy Guscott’s match-winning drop goal in the second Test in Durban is burned on the retina, the previous week’s win in Cape Town was arguably more impressive.

Against the world champion Bok pack, Ian McGeechan and Jim Telfer selected a front-row technically proficient rather than physically powerful, and they outmanoeuvred their hosts in the scrum to provide Neil Jenkins with the opportunity to kick five out of his six penalties.

Alan Tait scored a late try to seal the result, but before that, Matt Dawson, only in the side due to an injury to Rob Howley, threw a dummy so good that Bok captain Gary Teichmann is probably still looking for the ball, to put the tourists ahead.

Previously described in the South Africa press as “underdogs” and “a nice bunch of blokes”, Telfer utilised those slights in his now famous ‘Everest’ speech as the Lions laid down the groundwork for an iconic series win.

1. 2009 – Second Test – South Africa 28-25 Lions

A first Test defeat left the Lions knowing it was all or nothing as they travelled to Pretoria for round two against the Springboks.

One of the most physical games ever played; those antics occasionally crossed the line, and there remains a mystery as to why Schalk Burger wasn’t sent off for an apparent eye gouge on Luke Fitzgerald.

Jaque Fourie bulldozed over for a late try, but Stephen Jones kicked a penalty that looked likely to seal a draw.

However, with seconds remaining, Ronan O’Gara, perhaps suffering from a concussion, sent up a Garryowen, which resulted in him tackling Fourie de Preez in the air.

On his home ground of Loftus Versfeld, rookie replacement Morne Steyn, who might well feature in the upcoming series at the ripe old age of 37, slotted the game’s final kick from 53m to wrap up the series.

Despite the issues surrounding the build-up to the 2021 tour, there is no doubt that the Boks will bring all of the physicality and power demonstrated 12 years ago.

If this year’s series is anything like 2009, it is sure to be a monstrous match-up.

The first choice in any quiz team, Jack is your man for stats, facts and information across a wide range of different sports. As well as a vast knowledge of football, he specialises in cycling, rugby and tennis amongst a number of other sports.
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