Sunday, 10 May 2009

British Lions Record in South Africa

In anticipation of the 2009 British Lions rugby tour to South Africa, I thought it would be interesting to review the results of previous Lions tours to South Africa. As they say in the financial world "past performance is no guarantee of future returns"; still, if nothing else, an appreciation of the past can enhance enjoyment of the present.

British Lions Tour 1924

Although there were several British tours to South Africa prior to 1924, this was the first time they were to be known as the Lions. The team experienced a number of injuries, which contributed to them winning only 9 of their 21 matches, including defeat in all tests.

British Lions Tour 1938

In 1938 the Boks were the unofficial world champions, having beaten both New Zealand and Australia in their own back yards the previous year. Predictably the hosts won the first two tests comfortably, but were stunned when the Lions managed to win the third.

British Lions Tour 1955

The 1955 Lions produced some thrilling running rugby to share the series with the mighty Springboks 2-2. In so doing they severly diminished the Boks' aura of invincibility.

British Lions Tour 1962

In contrast, the Lions adopted a far more forwards-oriented approach on the 1962 tour, but although they matched the Springbok forwards, the backs were unable to utilise possession effectively, and the Lions went down 0-3 after drawing the first test.

British Lions Tour 1968

1968 saw a repeat scoreline, with the tourists losing the test series 0-3, having to content themselves with a single draw against the Boks.

British Lions Tour 1974

This was arguably the Lions' finest hour, remaining unbeaten on the tour, the only blemish on their perfect record being a draw in the final test. The team, led by inspirational captain Willie John McBride refused to back down to the Springboks' physical intimidation, and in fact seized the initiative with their famous 99 call. Interestingly, McBride has recently hinted that this may be the key to winning the 2009 tests too - not out-and-out fisticuffs of course, but that the battle will be won and lost in the scrums.

British Lions Tour 1980

1980 was a turbulent time in South Africa's history, and the tour went ahead in spite of opposition from the British government and various pressure groups opposed to the Apartheid system. In contrast, the South African government was all too keen to "keep politics out of sport"! Unfortunately the touring party experienced a number of serious injuries on tour which contributed to a 1-3 series loss.

British Lions Tour 1997

By the 1997 tour, Apartheid was a thing of the past, and the Springboks were reigning world champions after winning the 1995 World Cup at the first attempt. In spite of being underdogs and scoring fewer tries than the Boks though, the Lions managed a 2-1 series win in the tests.

British Lions Tour 2009

And that brings us to the eagerly-anticipated 2009 tour. That history is not yet written, and as interesting as it is to look back at previous tours, once the players run out onto the pitch, past results count for very little. But there is no doubt the world champion Springboks will want to set the record straight after losing the 1997 test series. The question is: will the Lions have the players, tactics and self-belief to build on that success? Time will tell...

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