The British and Irish Lions is a rugby union team selected from players eligible for any of the Home Nations – the national sides of the British Isles; England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
The Lions are a Test side, and generally select international players, but they can pick uncapped players available to any one of the four unions. The team currently tours every four years, with these rotating among Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.
From 1888 onwards combined rugby sides from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland toured the Southern Hemisphere. The first tour was a commercial venture, and was undertaken without official backing. The six subsequent visits enjoyed a growing degree of support from the authorities, before the 1910 South Africa tour, which was the first tour representative of the four Home Unions. In 1949 the four Home Unions formally created a Tours Committee and for the first time, every player of the 1950 Lions squad had played internationally before the tour. The 1950s tours saw high win rates in provincial games, but the Test series were typically lost or drawn. The winning series in 1971 (New Zealand) and 1974 (South Africa) changed this pattern. The last tour of the amateur age took place in 1993.
Some memorable moments in the history of the British and Irish Lions tours to South Africa, New Zealand and Australia:
Brian O'Driscoll spear tackle 2005 vs All Blacks
It was, and remains, one of the most controversial moments in Lions history; depositing a taste so sour in the mouths of its protagonists that 12 years on they refuse point-blank to discuss it.
The so-called ‘spear tackle’ that ended Lions captain Brian O’Driscoll’s 2005 campaign within minutes of the start of the first Test in Christchurch - the victim of a dislocated shoulder - cast a shadow so long that, even now, it leaves both sides of the divide angry and frustrated.
Ronan O'Gara's moment of madness 2009 vs Springboks
Lions seized the initiative with the best rugby of their tour as tries by Rob Kearney and penalties and a dropped goal by Stephen Jones established a commanding 19-8. But crucially, the Lions lost prop Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones within five minutes to injury, forcing uncontested scrums which allowed the Springboks to regain the initiative as the tourists soon after lost key playmakers Brian O’Driscoll and Jamie Roberts.
Tries by Bryan Habana and Jacque Fourie put the Springboks in front and although a late penalty by Jones levelled the scores, a moment of madness by Ronan O’Gara when he took out Fourie du Preez in the air, allowed Steyn to seal a famous victory.
Duncan McRae assault on Ronan O'Gara 2001 vs NSW Waratahs
In 2001, during the match between the New South Wales Waratahs and the British and Irish Lions, McRae was sent off for punching Irish fly-half Ronan O'Gara 11 times while O'Gara was on the ground, resulting in 8 stitches to O'Gara's eye. McRae received a seven week suspension, the disciplinary panel stating "There was no dispute that McRae struck O'Gara repeatedly and caused an injury that required medical attention.
The Committee concluded that this was a very serious incident, a repeated striking of a player on the ground who was in no real position to defend himself." However, as it was the Australian off-season, the seven week ban amounted to a zero game ban.
George North hoist Israel Falou in 2013 vs Australia
Led by Wales coach and captain Warren Gatland and Sam Warburton, the 37 man squad headed to Australia with an air of expectancy. Confidence which was well-founded in a narrow 23-21 first Test win in Brisbane against an injury-ravaged home team.
Ironically, it was in the agonising 16-15 second Test defeat where the most memorable moment of the tour occurred. Wales’ powerhouse wing George North took matters into his own hands and hoisted his opposite number Israel Falou, a man mountain himself, onto his shoulders and charged forwards, taking the attack to the opposition.
Jeremy Guscott drop goal in 1997 vs Springboks
The Lions’ 1997 tour was the first to South Africa since the end of apartheid, while it was also the first since rugby union turned professional.
Up against the 1995 World Cup winning Springboks, the odds seemed stacked against the Lions. It was the trusty right boot of England centre Jeremy Guscott that proved pivotal. His late (and rare) drop goal gave the Lions an 18-15 lead which they managed to protect thanks to a final few minutes of desperate and determined defence. A 35-16 loss in the final Test at Ellis Park did little to dampen the celebrations of Ian McGeechan’s men as they took a deserved series victory.
David Campese's ambitious pass in 1982 vs Australia
One of rugby’s all-time entertainers, Aussie winger David Campese has never been shy in backing his ability, or telling the rugby world how good he is. But his cockiness – or should that be arrogance? – was the deciding factor of the British and Irish Lions’ 1989 tour down under. The Test series was tied at 1-1 heading into the decider in Sydney, with the tourists recovering from a 30-12 drubbing in the opener with a 19-12 win at Brisbane.he series finale was delicately poised at 12-9 to the home team, when Rob Andrew’s attempted drop goal to even the score drifted wide and into the in-goal area.
With the Lions defence hunting him down, the maverick wing attempted an ambitious pass to full-back Greg Martin who fumbled the ball, which Wales wing Ieuan Evans pounced on for one of the easiest, but most important tries, in his illustrious career.
Lions "99 call" vs Springboks in 1974
In rugby union, the "99" call was a policy of simultaneous retaliation by the Lions during their 1974 tour to South Africa. The tour was marred by on-pitch violence, which the match officials did little to control and the relative absence of cameras compared to the modern game made citing and punishment after the fact unlikely.
Lions' captain Willie John McBride therefore instigated a policy of "one in, all in" - that is, when one Lion retaliated, all other Lions were expected to join in the melee or hit the nearest Springbok. By doing so, the referee would be unable to identify any single instigator and so would be left with the choice of sending off all or none of the team. In this respect, the "99" call was extremely successful, as no Lions player was sent off during the tour.