Warren Gatland’s team received a traditional Maori welcome at Auckland Airport in New Zealand upon their arrival. They are hoping to write their names in to the history books on this tour. Defeating the 3 time world champions would be a phenomenal achievement.
British & Irish teams have been travelling to the southern hemisphere on tours for 129 years. The first in 1888 travelled to Australia and New Zealand. They were captained by Englishman Robert Seddon. The 1888 team played 35 games of rugby in New Zealand and Australia, winning 27, drawing six and losing only two. However, this success was overshadowed by tragedy. Robert Seddon drowned after a sculling accident while on tour in Australia.
The northern hemisphere team, then known as the British Isles enjoyed early success on their travels winning the series in 1888, 1891, 1896, and 1899.
The British & Irish team first experienced the bitter taste of defeat in South Africa in 1903 when they lost a particularly tight series, drawing twice and losing once to the Springboks. They would have to wait till 1974 to win a test series on African soil.
The team bounced backed less than a year later with an emphatic 3-0 series win in Australia. This was followed by a 2-0 series defeat in New Zealand in 1908. They wouldn’t return to Australia or New Zealand till 1930. The team were defeated by South Africa in 1910 and wouldn’t return until 1924 due to WW1.
The inter war years weren’t very kind to the British & Irish side as they lost 2 tours to South Africa and lost a joint tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1930.
There was a 12 year break between tours as WW2 raged on.
It was the 1950 tour to New Zealand and Australia that birthed the British & Irish Lions we know today. The red jersey, white shorts, and blue socks with a green turnover became a staple from this tour onwards. It was also the tour in which the Lions nickname was officially claimed as their own. Results were slow to follow.
The Lions would have to wait until 1971 to win a series. They did this against the All Blacks in what many regard as the greatest tour ever. 1971 birthed a superstar, when Welshman Barry John scored a record 188 points on the tour of New Zealand.
This was followed by an emphatic 3-0 series victory in South Africa in 1974, their first series win against the Springboks since 1903.
A spell in the doldrums would follow for the Lions who would not win a series until 1989 in Australia. They would then go on to defeat current World Champions South Africa in 1997.
The Lions lost the series 2-1 to Australia in 2001 but there were plenty of positives to be taken from the tour. A certain, young Brian O’Driscoll shone on the world stage.
Brian O’ Driscoll stole the headlines in 2005 during the tour of New Zealand when he dislocated his shoulder after a controversial spear tackle by All Black’s Tana Umaga and Keven Mealamu.
The most recent tour was in Australia in 2013 where the Lions won the series 2-1, with a squad made up of 16 Welshmen, 14 Englishmen, 12 Irishmen, and 4 Scotsmen. Leigh Halfpenny proved to be the star of the tour scoring 114 points (49 Test points).
The Lions will be hoping for similar success in 2017 against an All Black side who only lost once in 2016. That defeat came against Ireland in an unforgettable night in Chicago.