Top 3: British & Irish Lions – When Individual Nations Shone

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Top 3: British & Irish Lions – When Individual Nations Shone

The British and Irish Lions are once more in the land of the silver fern, facing off against reigning world champions New Zealand and striving to avenge the infamous whitewash of 2005. Despite the gloom surrounding the Lions’ prospects, every individual country in the UK can reflect on its own produce with great pride, when remembering the best tours of yesteryear.

NZ 1971 – Welsh contingent makes history

The laboured nature of the Lions’ win over the Provincial Barbarians, in the first match of the current tour, is a dire indication that history may be about to repeat itself. So too was a defeat to the Blues, of Auckland, who currently lie bottom of their Super Rugby division. On the back of these poor early results, the British and Irish Lions are now a long shot (at around 5/1) to win the first match against the All Blacks on 24 June. This makes key betting services – like a £100 risk-free bet – ever more popular.
As can be seen on the infographic link above, the 1971 tour still stands as the most recent example of a successful New Zealand trip, in which the Lions won a majority of the games against their hosts. As well as being the most recent series win against the All Blacks, the 1971 tour is also the Lions’ sole success to date in New Zealand. A win over the All Blacks in Dunedin on 26 June was followed up by a defeat in Christchurch a fortnight later, and the series was poised at 1-1 as the Lions prepared for the third test match, held in Wellington.
Fly half Barry John was the star of the show in a low-scoring 13-3 win that did not reflect the cut-and-thrust nature of the game. A try, two conversions and a drop goal from John proved decisive, but they would have been nullified without the influence of Lions captain John Dawes at the back. Later a four-time winner of the Five Nations with Wales, Dawes was the muse of coach, and fellow Welshman, Carwyn James.
James was famous for being less vociferous than his other managerial peers, but no less effective. With a more diplomatic approach, he would always have the goodwill of the dressing room, and forged a great team spirit by addressing every player’s shortcomings individually through one-on-one discussions.

After the first New Zealand tour match since 2005 (pictured), the Lions face Super Rugby side Hurricanes as favourites at 4/6.
“NZ Maori v British & Irish Lions 05” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Catching Magic

South Africa 1974 – Irish powerhouse denied whitewash

Though New Zealand are clear favourites to win the 2019 World Cup at 5/4, nobody can truly rule out South Africa, even though the Springboks are 16/1 behind England, Australia and even Ireland to triumph. Back in 1974, South Africa’s rugby team had a reputation for brutality and physical prowess, and few rated the chances of a British and Irish Lions side that had yet to win a series there. In an age where no quarter was given, either on the pitch or off it, in a South African society still under apartheid rule, the Lions decided to give back exactly what they received.

The infographic illustrates a Willie John McBride in his imposing prime, and he was the expected instigator behind the Lions’ own brand of brutality, instructing his teammates to join any melee which might erupt. Though a primitive way of showing unity, it nonetheless worked exceptionally well. A 12-3 win in the first test was little indication of the dominance that would be shown in the second and third tests. The Lions scored 26 and 28 points respectively while keeping their hosts in single figures. J.J. Williams was in particularly inspired form, getting a brace of tries in both games.
The gloss would be taken off what was already a remarkable result, with the Lions drawing the fourth game 13-13 under controversial circumstances. Ireland’s Fergus Slattery was denied a place in Lions history by a disallowed try in the dying seconds.

South Africa 1997 – English and Scots combine forces to succeed again

The world, and South Africa, was a very different place when the Lions returned 25 years after a near-whitewash. In the interim, the British and Irish Lions toured in 1980, hoping to build on the success of 1974, but they failed and went down three games to one – as can be seen on the infographic. By 1997, the Springboks were a far more streamlined and disciplined side, winning with style and grace. The Springboks were also reigning world champions after winning the 1995 World Cup with consummate ease, and looked well placed to reassert their dominance with a sweep over the Lions.
Today, as long shots (at around 40/1) to lift the next World Cup, Scotland are largely seen as elimination fodder. Twenty years ago, however, it was a Scottish coaching duo of Ian McGeechan and Jim Telfer that coached a Lions side to slay the world champions in a 2-1 series win. On the pitch, Captain Martin Johnson turned from Leicester Tiger to English Lion, and the first match set the standard, with the Lions winning 25-16 thanks to tries from Matt Dawson and Alan Tait. That noted, five successful penalties from Neil Jenkins proved the real difference.

Jenkins repeated the feat in the second match, though the margin of victory was smaller. There was to be no whitewash however, with the Lions going down 35-16 in the third match. Nonetheless, the Springboks’ apparent infallibility had been resoundingly smashed by a jubilant British and Irish Lions side.

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