British and Irish Lions

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British and Irish Lions
Nickname (s) Lions
Association Irish Rugby Football Union
Rugby Football Union
Scottish Rugby Union
Welsh Rugby Union
Trainer Flag of New Zealand.svg Warren Gatland (2017)
captain Flag of Wales (1959 – present) .svg Sam Warburton (2017)
Kit left arm.png Kit body.png Kit right arm.png
Kit shorts.svg
Kit socks Lions.png
Most international caps Willie John McBride (17)
Most Points Scored Jonny Wilkinson (67)

Flag of Scotland (1542-2003) .svg Andy Irvine (281 in all games)

Most attempts scored Tony O'Reilly (38)
First international game
Otago 3-8 Lions (as Great Britain) (April 28, 1888)Free Use British and Irish Lions flag.PNG
Biggest win Argentina 0:46 Lions (August 7, 1927)
ArgentinaArgentina Free Use British and Irish Lions flag.PNG
Biggest loss New Zealand 38: 6 Lions (16 Jul 1983)
New ZealandNew Zealand Free Use British and Irish Lions flag.PNG

The British and Irish Lions are a rugby union team made up of a selection of the best players from England , Scotland and Wales as well as the All-Ireland Rugby Federation . Players who have not yet played for their country but are qualified for one of the four Home Nations can also be selected (which, however, rarely happens).

Joint teams from what was then the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland have been touring the southern hemisphere since 1888 . The first trip was a purely commercial venture with no official backing, but the six following tours prior to the 1910 South Africa tour received increasing support, even though only one roster included players from all four nations. Since 1910 a committee with representatives of all Home Nations has chosen the players involved.

In the beginning, the poorly organized Lions teams were usually defeated by their hosts, but in the early 1950s a sort of golden age began when they finished the series with a respectable 2-2 in South Africa. The 1970s were the most successful decade with the only victory so far over the New Zealand " All Blacks " and a 3-0 over the South African " Springboks ". The last tour in the amateur era in 1993 has been followed by five more to date.


The Lions form a tour team that regularly plays against teams from three countries in the southern hemisphere: Australia , South Africa and New Zealand . Before World War II , there were also tours to Argentina . At the moment there is a tour every four years - the third to last in 2009 to South Africa, the penultimate in 2013 to Australia, 2017 was the last, the destination was New Zealand.

On tour, games are played against local provincial and club teams in the middle of the week, while international games ( test matches ) against the national team of the host country are on the weekend .

Tension between the mid-week team and the test team is not uncommon. The number of players to be taken on tour is also often discussed. During the New Zealand tour in 2005, Scottish media in particular criticized the fact that their players were underrepresented with only three in the original 44-man squad. Similar clashes took place in Ireland and Wales. The question was raised whether a mandatory quota should be introduced for each nationality.

Names and symbols

The first teams were named British Isles . The term British Lions was probably first used on the 1950 tour and refers to the lion depicted on the shirt. The term British and Irish Lions has been in use since 2001 in order not to offend the national feeling of the Irish people involved . The move has been criticized as excessive political correctness ; the name British Lions refers to the geographical unit of the British Isles and has no political meaning. Most fans refer to the team as The Lions for short .

Because Lions do not represent a nation or country, they do not have national identifications such as a flag or national anthem . However, for the 2005 tour to New Zealand, a special song, The Power of Four , was composed and sung in place of a national anthem before the games. Fan support, however, has been modest and it is not certain that the song will be used on future tours.

The team wore the traditional colors for the first time on the tour of 1930 - red jerseys, white shorts, blue socks with a green top - so the game colors of the four Home Nations are included.



British Lions 1888

The first Lions tour took place in 1888 when a roster of 21 players toured Australia and New Zealand. Most of the participants came from England, but Welsh and Scots were also represented. The team played 35 games against provinces, city and student selections and won 27 times. International matches were not yet part of the tour.

Despite the lack of support from official institutions, this established the tradition that teams from the northern hemisphere visited the south. Three years later, the Western Province Union invited Great Britain to organize a tour to South Africa. Some saw the team from 1891 as the English national team, as it was supported by the Rugby Football Union , the English rugby association - the name British Isles is correct. Twenty games were played on the tour, including three official international matches ( test matches ) against the regional selection South Africa - the state of South Africa did not yet exist at the time - which were won. According to the instructions of Briton Sir Donald Currie, the British selection presented Griqualand West with a gold trophy for the best game of the tour - the Currie Cup , for which the South African provinces still fight every year.

Five years later another British Isles team came to South Africa. The team played 21 games, including four caps against South Africa, of which they won three. Noteworthy is the relatively high number of six Irish in the 21st man squad.

In 1899 Australia was back on the program. For the first time, players from all four Home Nations were represented, with a total of 23 players traveling. Selections from the Australian states, North Queensland and Victoria were the opponents in 17 games, in addition the British Isles played four times against the " Wallabies ", the Australian national team. They left the field as winners three times.

South Africa was again the goal of the next tour in 1903. Disappointing results at the beginning of the tour with three defeats against teams from the Western Province in Cape Town continued, after mixed results they lost the test series against South Africa. The British drew twice, but the decisive game went 8-0 to South Africa.

Barely twelve months later, a selection went to Australia and New Zealand. The Australian part of the tour was extremely successful: all games there were won, including three international matches against the national team. In New Zealand, however, the British lost their only international match against the New Zealanders after two victories against smaller teams, whereupon they achieved another win and a draw. Despite the difficulties in New Zealand, the tour was a great gaming success for the British and Irish.

In 1908 another tour took place in the two oceanic countries, but this time more games were played in New Zealand than in Australia; this decision probably has to do with the strength of the New Zealand teams and the low resistance of the Australians on the previous tour. The only English and Welsh touring team played well in all minor games, but the international series was lost with one draw and two defeats.


British Lions in Argentina (1927)

The tour to South Africa in 1910 is the official beginning of Lions history, as it was the first time that the team was selected by an official committee with representatives from all four associations. A little more than half of the non-friendly matches were won, but South Africa won the international series with 2-1 wins. Interestingly, at the same time, a team from Oxford University - supposedly the English national team, but in fact with three Scots on board - was out in Argentina. There the team was referred to as Combined British .

It took fourteen years until the next British Isles tour , again in South Africa. Not least because of serious injury problems, all four international matches (one against the Western Province ) were lost. It is uncertain whether the term Lions was used for the first time on this tour . All nine games on the short tour in Argentina in 1927 were won. Even so, Argentine rugby benefited financially from the Europeans' visit.

It was a long time since the British Isles team had been to New Zealand. The return in 1930 was quite successful. All games that did not have international status were won - apart from the games against Auckland , Wellington and Canterbury . All international matches against the All Blacks, however, were lost. Australia was also a destination on this tour. The international match there was also unsuccessful, but five out of six smaller games were won.

In 1936 Argentina was the destination again. All ten games were won with a total of only nine counterpoints. Two years later there was another tour to South Africa, in which more than half of the games were won. The international series, however, was decided in the third game - which went in favor of the British and Irish - for the South Africans.


After World War II , the first Lions destination in 1950 was New Zealand and Australia. With new jerseys and a nice style of play, they won 22 of the 29 games in one draw. The first four games were won, followed by defeats against Otago and Southland . In the first international game against the New Zealanders, the Lions reached a 9-9 draw, but despite good performances in all three subsequent internationals, they lost the series 0-3. In Australia, however, they won all games - including two internationals in Brisbane and Sydney - except the last one, an encounter with a selection from New South Wales .

The 1955 tour to South Africa was just as successful - if not more successful - than the previous one. The Lions achieved an impressive 19 wins and one draw in 25 games, the international series ended 2-2. Also in 1959 they lost only six of their 35 games in Australia and New Zealand, the two international matches against Australia were easily won, only New Zealand was once again the winner of the series with 3-1.

The success of the 1950s was followed by a rather sobering decade. In 1962 the Lions visited South Africa. Although they won 16 of the 25 games, they had no chance against the Springboks and lost all three internationals. Four years later, the Lions toured Australia again, winning five of six smaller games and both international games. But New Zealand again only offered mixed results, the All Blacks remained victorious in all international matches. On the way home, the Lions fought Canada in Toronto , which they won 19-8. In 1968 in South Africa the Lions again won 15 of 16 games against provincial teams, but the Springboks remained a size too big - three international games were lost, and once reached there was a draw.


In the 1970s, the good work was rewarded with success. The 1971 team around the Welsh playmakers, scrum Gareth Edwards and connector Barry John , won an international series against the All Blacks. The tour started with a loss to Queensland, but the next eleven provincial games were won in a row, followed by a win over New Zealanders in Dunedin . They suffered one defeat, but the last two games ended with a win for the Lions and a draw, so that the series was won with 2-1 wins.

Probably the best known and most successful Lions team was that of 1974 under Irish second row striker Willie John McBride . The Lions remained unbeaten in 22 games in South Africa, with three international wins and one draw signifying a triumph for the Europeans. A side effect of the tour, however, was the violence. Lions officials concluded that the South Africans dominated their opponents through their physical aggressiveness. At that time, the referee of the international matches was provided by the host, substitutions were only made if a doctor found that a player was physically unable to continue playing. There wasn't a huge number of cameras and linesmen to keep hitting, kicking, and knocks to the head to a minimum today. The Lions decided to use the infamous 99 call ( 99 is short for 999 , the emergency number in the UK and Ireland) to " get their retaliation in first ". The idea behind it was that the referee would certainly not remove all Lions from the field if they “defended themselves against blatant thuggery ”. There is a video of the game in the Boet Erasmus Stadium , one of the most violent in rugby history, in which JPR Williams runs over half the pitch after such a 99 call and attacks second-row striker Johannes van Heerden and knocks him unconscious.

In 1977 the Lions lost only one non-international match out of 21 against a university team, but the team only won once against the All Blacks, losing three times.


Lost to the New Zealand Māori in 2005

The Lions achieved a flawless 14 wins in 14 games in South Africa in 1980 until they lost their first three internationals against the Springboks. The last victory was useless, the series could no longer be won. They suffered a similar fate in New Zealand in 1983. They lost only two small games, but the All Blacks remained victorious in all international matches.

Australia was the sole travel destination for the first time in 1989 - 12 games were played on this rather short tour. The Lions were successful, losing only one of their four internationals. The 1993 tour to New Zealand was the last in the amateur era. Mixed results in the small games were followed by a 2-1 defeat in the international series.

In 1997 in South Africa the Lions were very successful again. Only two games on the entire tour were lost, the series was won 2-1. 2001 in Australia only ten games were played, the Wallabies won the series 2-1 and received the newly donated Tom Richards Trophy , which holds the respective winner of a test series between Australia and the Lions. Tom Richards was the only player to have played for both the Lions and the Wallabies.

The 2005 Lions Tour took place in New Zealand. The tour started in Europe with a game against Argentina in Cardiff , which ended in a 25-25 draw. In New Zealand itself, the Lions defeated all provincial teams , but suffered a defeat against the New Zealand Māori and lost the international series against a strong New Zealand team with 3-0. Vortex caused the injury of Lions captain Brian O'Driscoll in the first minute of the first international match in Christchurch , which is why the involved All-Blacks captain Tana Umaga came under heavy criticism.


The 2009 tour took the British and Irish Lions to South Africa, where they last won the series 2-1 in 1997. The team was coached by Ian McGeechan from Scotland , who has already held this position three times. The selection was captained by Paul O'Connell . The series was lost 2-1, South Africa had narrowly won the first two games, the Lions secured a victory in the final game.

In 2013, the Lions won the series against Australia 2-1. The captain was the Welshman Sam Warburton . The team was coached by Warren Gatland , the Welsh national coach.

In 2017, the Lions drew against New Zealand and did not lose the series against the All Blacks for the first time since 1971. Warren Gatland was again coach of the selection, Sam Warburton also captained for the second time.

In 2021 the Lions will compete against the reigning world champion from South Africa.


year target captain Trainer success Result
1888 New Zealand
& Australia
Bob Seddon - England
Andrew Stoddart - England
1891 South Africa Bill Maclagen - Scotland Won 3-0
1896 South Africa Johnny Hammond Won 3-1
1899 Australia Matthew Mullineux - England Won 3-1
1903 South Africa Mark Morrison - Scotland Lost 0-1 (2 × draws)
1904 Australia
& New Zealand
David Bedell-Sivright - Scotland Won


3-0 (Australia)

0-1 (New Zealand)

1908 New Zealand
& Australia
AF Harding Lost 0-2 (1 × tie)
1910 South Africa Tom Smyth - Ireland Lost 1-2
1910 Argentina John Raphael - England Won 1-0
1924 South Africa Ronald Cove-Smith - England Lost 0-3 (1 × tie)
1927 Argentina David MacMyn - Scotland Won 4-0
1930 New Zealand
& Australia
Doug Prentice - England Lost


1-3 (New Zealand)

0-1 (Australia)

1936 Argentina Bernard Gadney - England Won 1-0
1938 South Africa Sam Walker - Ireland Lost 1-2
1950 New Zealand
& Australia
Karl Mullen - Ireland Lost


0-3 (New Zealand)

2-0 (Australia)

1955 South Africa Robin Thompson - Ireland draw 2-2
1959 Australia
& New Zealand
Ronnie Dawson - Ireland Won


2-0 (Australia)

1-3 (New Zealand)

1962 South Africa Arthur Smith - Scotland Lost 0-3 (1 × tie)
1966 Australia,
New Zealand
& Canada
Mike Campbell-Lamerton - Scotland Won


2-0 (Australia)

0-4 (New Zealand)

1968 South Africa Tom Kiernan - Ireland Lost 0-3 (1 × tie)
1971 New Zealand John Dawes - Wales Carwyn James - Wales Won 2-1 (1 × tie)
1974 South Africa Willie John McBride - Ireland Syd Millar - Ireland Won 3-0 (1 × draw)
1977 New Zealand Phil Bennett - Wales John Dawes - Wales Lost 1-3
1980 South Africa Bill Beaumont - England Noel Murphy - Ireland Lost 1-3
1983 New Zealand Ciaran Fitzgerald - Ireland Jim Telfer - Scotland Lost 0-4
1989 Australia Finlay Calder - Scotland Ian McGeechan - Scotland Won 2-1
1993 New Zealand Gavin Hastings - Scotland Ian McGeechan - Scotland Lost 1-2
1997 South Africa Martin Johnson - England Ian McGeechan - Scotland Won 2-1
2001 Australia Martin Johnson - England Graham Henry - New Zealand Lost 1-2
2005 New Zealand Brian O'Driscoll - Ireland Sir Clive Woodward - England Lost 0-3
2009 South Africa Paul O'Connell - Ireland Ian McGeechan - Scotland Lost 1-2
2013 Australia Sam Warburton - Wales Warren Gatland - Wales Won 2-1
2017 New Zealand Sam Warburton - Wales Warren Gatland - Wales draw 1-1 (1 × tie)
2021 South Africa


In the past it was considered a great honor for a player to be called up for the Lions - bigger himself than to play for the national team. It was also a unique experience for the respective opponent. Increasingly, however, the future of Lions is being questioned by players, officials and the media, especially after the poor performance of the last two tours to Australia and New Zealand. The long tours are often referred to as the anachronism of the amateur era in the highly professionalized world of international rugby union. On the other hand, many see this as proof that the Lions embody the old rugby tradition and are fighting for Lions tours to continue unchanged and for the international matches to be officially recognized. Some fans think that the Lions should continue to exist, but analogous to other "thrown together" teams like the Barbarians more for fun in the game than as a serious team with international status.

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