British and Irish Lions’ memorable matches | Ruck

British and Irish Lions’ memorable matches

The British and Irish Lions have been involved in many memorable Test matches during a long and illustrious history.

Here, we look back on five of the best.

South Africa 22 Lions 23 (first Test, Johannesburg, August 6, 1955)

Members of the British Lions squad at London Airport ahead of their tour of South Africa
Members of the British Lions squad at London Airport ahead of their tour of South Africa (PA)

Considered by many to be the greatest match involving the Lions, launching a Test series against the Springboks that is also regarded as among the most entertaining. The match saw nine tries with the lead changing hands four times. The Lions played virtually the entire second half with 14 men while South Africa missed a conversion with the last kick of the game which would have won them the match.

New Zealand 3 Lions 13 (third Test, Wellington, July 31, 1971)

Barry John was one of the heroes of the 1971 British Lions tour of New Zealand
Barry John was one of the heroes of the 1971 British Lions tour of New Zealand (PA)

The third Test completed the Lions’ only series victory against the All Blacks. The tourists scored all their points in the first quarter before closing out the Test, which was played in blustery conditions, in ruthless fashion. Welsh greats Gerald Davies and Barry John scored tries as the Lions established an unassailable 2-1 lead in the series.

South Africa 9, Lions 28 (second Test, Pretoria, June 22, 1974)

Willie John McBride's tourists whitewashed the Springboks
Willie John McBride’s tourists whitewashed the Springboks (PA)

A golden era for the Lions continued when Willie John McBride’s tourists thrashed the Springboks 3-0 in the series, with the second Test proving the highlight. South Africa were outscored 5-0 on the try count and were taken apart in a manner rarely seen. Wales wing JJ Williams scored five tries while half-backs Gareth Edwards and Phil Bennett were in inspired form.

South Africa 15, Lions 18 (second Test, Durban, June 28 1997)

Jeremy Guscott celebrates after his drop goal
Jeremy Guscott celebrates after his drop goal (Mike Egerton/Empics)

Expectations were minimal when the 1997 Lions, led by Martin Johnson, arrived in South Africa for a series no one believed they could win. A 25-16 victory in the first Test defied all expectations but better was to come a week later when the Lions’ heroic defence kept the dominant Springboks in check. Neil Jenkins kicked all five of his penalties but the winning points were delivered by Jeremy Guscott’s famous drop-goal.

South Africa 28, Lions 25 (second Test, Pretoria, June 27, 2009)

South Africa's Morne Steyn is mobbed by his team-mates after kicking the winning penalty
South Africa’s Morne Steyn is mobbed by his team-mates after kicking the winning penalty (David Davies/PA)

The Lions’ only defeat on this list and a result that condemned them to a series loss but there have been few more brutal Test matches packed full of controversy and courage. Two minutes into injury time, Morne Steyn kicked a long-range penalty to win the game but what preceded that was a game of rare intensity with the Lions leading until the 76th minute. Injuries to Adam Jones and Brian O’Driscoll shifted the balance towards South Africa.

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