Five of the Greatest Lions Teams of All-time

The British & Irish Lions have a rich history to try and live up to

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With the current British and Irish Lions preparing for the first Test against world champions South Africa, we go down memory lane to pick out five of the best squads from the past.

Debuting in 1888, the concept of the Lions touring either Australia, New Zealand or South Africa took some time to gather pace and the last tour of the amateur age took place in 1993.

There were three tours of Argentina in the early days (1910, 1927 and 1936), but the Lions now rotate between the three Southern Hemisphere powerhouses every four years.

A total of 18 Tests have been played during the professional era and it has proven to be tough work for the Lions during this period, winning only two Tours (1997 and 2013).

With the excitement building ahead of the first 2021 Tests, we have listed our five greatest Lions teams.

5) 2005 Tour of New Zealand

The 2005 tour of New Zealand certainly didn’t go to plan for the Lions, who lost a series 3-0 for the first time in 22 years under the stewardship of Sir Clive Woodward, who has led England to World Cup glory two years prior.

A dreadful tackle on captain Brian O’Driscoll two minutes into the first Test ended his tour, thrusting Wales skipper Gareth Thomas into the limelight as he took over captaincy duties for the remainder of the tour.

This 2005 squad was one of the most experienced, boasting the likes of O’Driscoll, Thomas, Jason Robinson, Gethin Jenkins, Graham Rowntree, Ben Kay, Neil Back, Lawrence Dallaglio, Shane Williams, Ronan O’Gara and Matt Dawson.

Although this team wasn’t the greatest in terms of the series score, they were certainly one of the greatest on paper. It was just disappointing they could not gel together and put up a better fight.

4) 1993 Tour of New Zealand

This was the final tour of the amateur age and although the Lions were unable to round off this period in style, as they lost 2-1 to New Zealand, the squad was arguably one of the best around.

Captained by the legendary Scot Gavin Hastings and coached by Sir Ian McGeechan, the Lions lost the first Test in controversial circumstances as many decisions went against them, but they levelled things up in the second.

Going 10-0 ahead in the decider, the Lions were eventually defeated 30-13 by the All Blacks, who were cheered on by a partisan home crowd at Eden Park, Auckland.

Along with Hastings, the Lions had the likes of Rob Andrew, Jeremy Guscott, Will Carling and Rory Underwood in the backs, while Ben Clarke, Dean Richards, Brian Moore and Martin Johnson led the forwards.

3) 1989 Tour of Australia

McGeechan has led some fine Lions squads into battle and the head coach managed to pick up a 2-1 series win in 1989 against Australia, who won the opening Test before losing the next two.

The team became the only Lions side ever to come from 1-0 down to win a series and a big reason for this was the performances of Mike Teague, who was named player of the series.

Fly-half Rob Andrew and the centre combination of Jeremy Guscott and Scott Hastings were also pivotal during the second and third Tests, helping the Lions create a little bit of history along the way.

2) 1997 Tour of South Africa

Another tour with McGeechan as head coach, this ended in success for the Lions as they defeated South Africa 2-1, making it only the third time that a touring side had won a test series in South Africa  – the others being the 1974 Lions and the 1996 All Blacks

The Springboks were in a slight decline since winning the 1995 World Cup but the Lions were still seen as underdogs. SA Sports Illustrated described the tourists as “a nice bunch of blokes who were making a bit of history and, in so doing, winning friends rather than matches”.

Led Martin Johnson, the Lions claimed the spoils and a huge reason for this Wales supremo Neil Jenkins, who was the top scorer of the series with a fantastic 41 points.

Backed by the likes of Guscott, Will Greenwood, Jason Leonard and Richard Hill, this squad of so-called underdogs came together to make Lions history.

1) 2013 Tour of Australia

The most recent Lions win came in 2013 when they defeated Australia 2-1 in an enthralling series. This was the first of three times Warren Gatland was placed in charge, the second being the 2017 draw against New Zealand while the third is the 2021 edition.

Having picked up a win apiece across the first two Tests, the Lions dominated the decider, romping to a 41-16 win and securing the first series win since 1997 in South Africa.

Of the 10-match tour, the Lions only lost two matches in total, the other being a 14-12 defeat to the Brumbies in Canberra, and they are rightly number one in our all-time list.

This squad was bursting with talent. In the backs, there were the likes of O’Driscoll, Shane Williams, Tommy Bowe, George North, Manu Tuilagi and Jamie Roberts, while the forwards included Alun Wyn-Jones, Paul O’Connell, Jamie Heaslip, Gethin Jenkins and Rory Best.

A single-handicapper, James always offers an interesting insight to the world of golf, with extensive knowledge of both the US and European Tours. James also has a wealth of information about the domestic and international football scene.
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