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The British and Irish Lions, formerly known as the British Isles and the British Lions, is a rugby union team made up of players from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. The Lions generally select international players; they can pick uncapped players available to one of the four Home Unions, but in years this has rarely occurred.

Combined rugby union sides from the then United Kingdom of Great Britain and Irelandmarker toured in the Southern Hemispheremarker from 1888 onwards. The first tour took place as a commercial venture, made without official backing, but the six subsequent visits that took place before the 1910 South Africa tour, the first representative of the four Home Unions, enjoyed a growing degree of support from the authorities.

Great Britain also entered a team at the Olympics Games in 1900 and in 1908, but they were organized separately from the Lions.

In 1949 the Four Home Unions combined formally to create a Tours Committee and for the first time, every player of the 1950 Lions squad was an international before the New Zealand series. The 1950s proved a golden age for Lions rugby, although only in the 1970s did style begin to match the substance of victory in New Zealand and South Africa. Originally, poorly organised Lions teams regularly suffered defeat at the hands of their hosts, but by 1955 the tourists took the matches seriously enough to obtain a 2-2 draw in South Africa. The 1970s saw a renaissance for the side. The last tour of the amateur age took place in 1993.

Naming and symbols

The team historically used the name British Isles. On their 1950 tour of New Zealandmarker and Australia they also adopted the nickname British Lions, first used by British journalists on the 1924 South African tour, after the lion emblem on their jerseys and ties. Since the 2001 tour of Australia they have used the name British and Irish Lions. The team adopted this latest name because two sovereign states are represented by the team - the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, which has not been part of the UK since 1922. The team is often referred to simply as the Lions.

As the Lions do not represent a single nation-state, they do not have a national anthem. For the 2005 tour to New Zealand the Lions management commissioned a song, "The Power of Four", although it met with little support amongst Lions fans at the matches and was not used on the 2009 Tour.

The Lions' badge is made up of the symbols of the four Home Unions. The Lions first wore their traditional colours on the 1950 tour: red jerseys, white shorts, blue socks and green stocking-tops, to represent each of the four represented Unions (Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland respectively).


1888 - 1909

Shaw & Shrewsbury Team, 1888, The first British or Irish touring rugby team, a private-enterprise trip to Australia and New Zealand

Despite its label as an England side, the team which toured South Africa in 1891 contained several Scots.

England v Cape Colony, 1891.
The first match of the Bill MacLagan undefeated tour of South Africa

The earliest tours date back to 1888, when a 21-man squad visited Australia and New Zealandmarker. The squad drew players from England, Scotland and Wales, though English players predominated. The 35-match tour of two host nations included no tests, but the side played provincial, city and academic sides, winning 27 matches. They played 21 games of Australian rules football, against prominent clubs in Victoriamarker and South Australiamarker, and won six of these (see Australian rules football in England).

The first tour, although unsanctioned by rugby bodies, had established the notion of touring Northern Hemispheremarker sporting sides to Southern Hemispheremarker locations. Three years after the first tour, the Western Province union invited rugby bodies in Britain to tour South Africa. Some saw the 1891 team — the first sanctioned by the Rugby Football Union — as the English rugby team, though others referred to it (and rightly so) as "the British Isles". The tourists played a total of twenty matches, three of them tests. The team also played the regional side of South Africa (South Africa did not exist as a political unit in 1891), winning all three matches. In a notable event of the tour, the touring side presented the Currie Cup to Griqualand West, the province they thought produced the best performance on the tour.

Five years later a British Isles side returned to South Africa. They played one extra match on this tour, making the total of 21 games, including four tests against South Africa, with the British Isles winning three of them. The squad had a notable Irish orientation, with the Irish national team contributing six players to the 21-man squad.

In 1899 the British Isles touring side returned to Australia for the first time since the unofficial tour of 1888. The squad of 23 for the first time ever had players from each of the home nations. The team again participated in 21 matches, playing state teams as well as northern Queenslandmarker sides and Victorianmarker teams. A four-test series took place against Australia, the tourists winning three out of the four.

Four years later, in 1903, the British and Irish team returned to South Africa. The opening performance of the side proved disappointing from the tourists' point of view, with defeats in its opening three matches by Western Province sides in Cape Townmarker. From then on the team experienced mixed results, though more wins than losses. The side lost the test series to South Africa, drawing twice, but with the South Africans winning the decider 8 to nil.

No more than twelve months passed before the British and Irish team ventured to Australia and New Zealand in 1904. The tourists devastated the Australian teams, winning every single game. Australia also lost all three tests to the visitors, even getting held to a stand-still in two of the three games. Though the New Zealand leg of the tour did not take long in comparison to the number of Australian games, the British and Irish experienced considerable difficulty across the Tasman after white-washing the Australians. The team managed two early wins before losing the test to New Zealand and only winning one more game as well as drawing once. Despite their difficulties in New Zealand the tour proved a raging success on-field for the British and Irish.

In 1908 another tour took place to Australia and New Zealand. In a reversal of previous practice, the planners allocated more matches in New Zealand rather than in Australia: perhaps the strength of the New Zealand teams and the heavy defeats of all Australian teams on the previous tour influenced this decision. Some commentators thought that this tour hoped to reach out to rugby communities in Australia, as rugby league (infamously) started in Australia in 1908. The Anglo-Welsh side (Irish and Scottish unions did not participate) performed well in all the non-test matches, but drew a test against New Zealand and lost the other two.

1910 - 1949

Visits that took place before the 1910 South Africa tour (the first selected by a committee from the four Home Unions) had enjoyed a growing degree of support from the authorities, although only one of these included representatives of all four nations. The 1910 tour to South Africa marked the official beginning of British and Irish rugby tours: the inaugural tour operating under all four unions. The team performed moderately against the non-test parties, claiming victories in just over half their matches. The test series, however, went to South Africa, who won two of the three games. A side managed by Oxford Universitymarker — supposedly the England rugby team but actually including three Scottish players — toured Argentinamarker at the time: the people of Argentina termed it the "Combined British".

A wait of fourteen years would ensue until another British Isles team tour took place, again in South Africa. The team struggled with injuries and lost all four tests (a game against the Western Province had test status). This tour may have marked the occasion when the team first became known as "the Lions".

In 1927 a short nine-game series took place in Argentinamarker, with the Lions winning all nine encounters; the tour did however become a financial success for Argentinian rugby. After a seemingly long absence from New Zealand, the Lions returned in 1930 to some success. The Lions won all of their games that did not have test status except for the matches against Aucklandmarker, Wellingtonmarker and Canterburymarker; they did however lose all of their test matches against the All Blacks. The side also visited Australia, losing a test but winning five out of the six non-test games.

In 1936 the Lions visited Argentinamarker, winning all ten of their matches and only conceding nine points in the whole tour. Two years later the Lions toured in South Africa, winning more than half of their normal matches. Despite having lost the test series to South Africa by game three, the Lions won the final test.

1950 - 1969

The first post-war tour went to New Zealand and Australia in 1950. The Lions, sporting newly redesigned jerseys and displaying a fresh style of play, managed to win 22 and draw one of 29 matches over the two nations. The Lions won the opening four fixtures before losing to Otago and Southlandmarker, but succeeded in holding the All Blacks to a nine-all draw. The Lions performed well in the remaining All Black tests though they lost all three, the team did not lose another non-test in the New Zealand leg of the tour. The Lions won all their games in Australia except for their final fixture against a New South Walesmarker XV in Newcastlemarker. They won both of the two tests against Australia, in Brisbanemarker and in Sydneymarker.

The 1955 tour to South Africa proved arguably just as successful — or even more successful — than the previous tour that had taken place five years earlier. The Lions left with another imposing record, one draw and 19 wins from the 25 fixtures. The four-test series against South Africa, a thrilling affair, ended in a drawn series.

The 1959 tour to Australia and New Zealand marked once again a very successful tour for the Lions, who only lost six of their 35 fixtures. The Lions easily won both tests against Australia and lost the first three tests against the All Blacks, but did find victory in the final test.

After the glittering decade of the 1950s, the first tour of the 1960s proved not nearly as successful as previous ones. The 1962 tour to South Africa saw the Lions still win 16 of their 25 games, but did not fair well against the Springboks, losing three of the four tests. For the 1966 tour to Australia and New Zealand John Robins became the first Lions Coach, and the trip started off very well for the Lions, who stormed through Australia, winning five non-tests and drawing one; and most notably defeating Australia in two tests as well. The Lions however experienced mixed results during the New Zealand leg of the tour, as well as losing all of the tests against the All Blacks. The Lions also played a test against Canada on their way home, winning 19 to 8 in Torontomarker. The 1968 tour of South Africa saw the Lions win 15 of their 16 provincial matches, but the team actually lost three tests against the Springboks and drew one.

1970 - 1979

The 1970s saw a renaissance for the Lions. The 1971 team, centred around the skilled Welsh half-back pairing of Gareth Edwards and Barry John, secured a series win over the All Blacks. The tour started with a loss to Queenslandmarker but proceeded to storm through the next provincinal fixtures, winning 11 games in a row. The Lions then went on to defeat the All Blacks in Dunedinmarker. The Lions would only lose a single match on the rest of the tour, and won the test series against New Zealand, winning and drawing the last two games, to take the series two wins to one.

Arguably the best-known and most successful Lions team toured South Africa in 1974 under the esteemed Irish forward Willie John McBride. It went through 22 games unbeaten, and triumphed 3-0 (with one drawn) in the test series. The test series featured a lot of violence. The management of the Lions concluded that the Springboks dominated their opponents with physical aggression. At that time test-match referees came from the home nation, substitutions took place only if a doctor found a player unable to continue and there were no video cameras or sideline officials to prevent violent play. The Lions decided "to get their retaliation in first" with the infamous "99 call". The Lions postulated that a South African referee would probably not send off all of the Lions if they all retaliated against "blatant thuggery". Famous video footage of the 'battle of Boet Erasmus Stadiummarker' shows JPR Williams running over half of the pitch and launching himself at van Heerden after such a call.

The 1977 tour to New Zealand saw the Lions drop only one non-test out of 21 games, a loss to a Universities side. The team did not win the test series though, winning one game but losing the other three.

1980 - 2005

The Lions toured South Africa in 1980. The team completed a flawless non-test record, winning 14 out of 14 non-test matches on the tour. The Lions did however lose the first three tests to South Africa, winning the last one, though the series had already been won by the Springboks.The 1983 tour to New Zealand saw the team successful on the non-test front, winning all but two games, but getting white-washed in the test-series against the All Blacks.The Lions tour to Australia in 1989 was a short affair, being only 12 matches in total. The tour was very successful for the Lions, who won all eight non-tests and won the test series against Australia, two to one.

The Lions tour to New Zealand in 1993 was the last of the amateur era. The tourists won six and lost four non-test matches, and lost the test series 2-1.The tour to South Africa in 1997 was a success for the Lions, who completed the tour with only two losses. The Lions won the test series 2-1.

In 2001, the ten game tour to Australia, saw the Wallabies win the test series 2-1. This series saw the first award of the Tom Richards Trophy.The Lions' 2005 tour to New Zealand, coached by 2003 England world cup winning coach Clive Woodward, won all seven games against provincial teams however suffered heavy defeats in all three tests and were narrowly defeated by the New Zealand Maori team.


The Lions faced the World Cup winners South Africa, with Ian McGeechan leading a coaching team including Warren Gatland, Shaun Edwards and Rob Howley. The Lions were captained by Irish lock Paul O'Connell. The initial Lions selection consisted of fourteen Irish players, thirteen Welsh, eight English and two Scots in the 37-man squad.

In the first Test on 20 June, they lost 26-21, and lost the series in the second 28-25 in a tightly-fought game at Loftus Versfeld on June 27. The Lions won the third Test 28-9 at Ellis Parkmarker, and the series finished 2-1 to South Africa.


During June of 2013 the British and Irish Lions will tour Australia.

The tour is expected to start in Perthmarker on Saturday 1 June 2013 against Super 14 team Force at the Subiaco Ovalmarker.

The provisional dates and venues for the three international tests are:
  • Saturday 22 June 2013, Brisbane
  • Saturday 29 June 2013, Melbourne
  • Saturday 9 July 2013, Sydney

In June 2009 the British media reported that Argentina were lobbying for the 2013 British and Irish Lions Tour to Australia to incorporate a series of games in Argentina. The proposed format would be three provincial games in Argentia followed by two international tests, followed by three provincial games in Australia followed by three international tests.

Veteran Lions coach Ian McGeechan is expected to act in a consultative role for the 2013 tour.



The Lions tour three southern-hemisphere nations; Australia, South Africa and New Zealandmarker. They also routinely toured in Argentinamarker before World War II. Tours currently take place every four years. The most recent tour visited South Africa in May-July 2009, and before that the Lions toured New Zealand in 2005.

In a break with tradition, a "home" fixture against Argentina took place at Millennium Stadiummarker in Cardiffmarker on 23 May 2005, before the Lions went to New Zealand. It finished in a draw, 25-25.

On tour, games take place against local provinces, clubs or representative sides as well as the full tests against the host's national team.

The Lions, and their predecessor teams, have often played games against other nearby countries on tour. For example, they played Rhodesia (the future Zimbabwemarker) in 1910, 1924, 1938, 1955, 1962, 1968 & 1974 during their tours to South Africa. They also were beaten by Fiji on their 1977 tour to New Zealand. In addition, they toured pre-independence Namibiamarker (then South West Africa), in 1962, 1968, 1974 and 1980.

There have also been games in other countries on the way home. These include games in Canada in 1959 and 1966, East Africa (then mostly Kenyamarker, and held in Nairobimarker), and an unofficial game against Ceylon (future Sri Lankamarker) in 1950.


Year To Captain Head coach Top Scorer in Tests Result Tests record
1888 New Zealand

& Australia
Robert Seddon

Andrew Stoddart
Alfred Shaw

Arthur Shrewsbury
No Test matches played
1891 South Africa Bill Maclagan Edwin Ash Arthur Rotherham, 4 Won 3–0
1896 South Africa Johnny Hammond R. Walker J. F. Byrne, 12 Won 3–1
1899 Australia Matthew Mullineux
Frank Stout
Matthew Mullineux Charlie Adamson, 17 Won 3–1
1903 South Africa Mark Morrison Johnny Hammond John Gillespie, 4 Lost 0–1 (2 drawn tests)
1904 Australia

& New Zealand
David Bedell-Sivright Arthur O'Brien Percy Bush, 20 Won
3-0 (Australia)
0-1 (New Zealand)
1908 New Zealand

& Australia
Arthur 'Boxer' Harding George Harnett Reggie Gibbs, 3
Jack Jones, 3
Lost 0–2 (1 drawn test) (NZ)
No tests against Australia
1910 South Africa Tommy Smyth W Cail

Walter E. Rees
John Spoors, 9 Lost 1–2
1910 Argentina John Raphael R.V. Stanley Won 1–0
1924 South Africa Ronald Cove-Smith Harry Packer Tom Voyce, 6 Lost 0–3 (1 drawn test)
1927 Argentina David MacMyn James Baxter Won 4–0
1930 New Zealand

& Australia
Doug Prentice James Baxter Carl Aarvold, 9 Lost
1–3 (New Zealand)
0–1 (Australia)
1936 Argentina Bernard Gadney Won 1–0
1938 South Africa Sam Walker Col. B.C. Hartley Vivian Jenkins, 9 Lost 1–2
1950 New Zealand

& Australia
Karl Mullen Surgeon Captain L.B. Osborne Lewis Jones, 26 Lost
0–3 (1 drawn test) (NZ)
2–0 (Australia)
1955 South Africa Robin Thompson Jack Siggins Jeff Butterfield, 12 Tied 2–2
1959 Australia

& New Zealand
Ronnie Dawson O.B. Glasgow David Hewitt, 16 Won
2–0 (Australia)
1–3 (New Zealand)
1962 South Africa Arthur Smith Harry McKibbin John Wilcox, 5 Lost 0-3 (1 drawn test)
1966 Australia,

New Zealand

& Canada
David Watkins

Mike Campbell-Lamerton
John Robins Stewart Wilson, 30 Won

2–0 (Australia)
0–4 (New Zealand)
1–0 (Canada)

1968 South Africa Tom Kiernan Ronnie Dawson Tom Kiernan, 35 Lost 0–3 (1 drawn test)
1971 New Zealand John Dawes Carwyn James Barry John, 30 Won 2–1 (1 drawn test)
1974 South Africa Willie John McBride Syd Millar Phil Bennett, 25 Won 3–0 (1 drawn test)
1977 New Zealand & Fiji Phil Bennett John Dawes Phil Bennett, 18 Lost
1–3 (New Zealand)
0–1 (Fiji)
1977 Home match vs Barbarians Won 1–0
1980 South Africa Bill Beaumont Noel Murphy Tony Ward, 18 Lost 1–3
1983 New Zealand Ciaran Fitzgerald Jim Telfer Ollie Campbell, 15 Lost 0–4
1986 (Home match) Rest of the World XV Colin Deans Mick Doyle Won 1–0
1989 Australia Finlay Calder Ian McGeechan Gavin Hastings, 28 Won 2–1
1989 Match vs France in Paris Rob Andrew Won 1–0
1993 New Zealand Gavin Hastings Ian McGeechan Gavin Hastings, 38 Lost 1–2
1997 South Africa Martin Johnson Ian McGeechan
Jim Telfer
Neil Jenkins, 41 Won 2–1
2001 Australia Martin Johnson Graham Henry Jonny Wilkinson, 36 Lost 1–2
2005 Home match vs Argentina Brian O'Driscoll Sir Clive Woodward Jonny Wilkinson, 20 Tied 1 drawn test
2005 New Zealand Brian O'Driscoll

Martin Corry

Gareth Thomas
Sir Clive Woodward Jonny Wilkinson, 31 Lost 0–3
2009 South Africa Paul O'Connell Ian McGeechan Stephen Jones, 39 Lost 1–2
2013 Australia

Lions Home Matches

The Lions have played a number of "Home Matches" against international opposition. With the exception of the 2005 Home Match against Argentina (which was played as a warm-up to the 2005 British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand), these matches have been one-offs to mark special occasions:
  1. The Lions played an unofficial international match in 1955 at Cardiff Arms Parkmarker against a Welsh XV to mark the 75th anniversary of the Welsh Rugby Union. The Lions won 23-14 but did not include all the big names of the 1955 tour, such as Tony O'Reilly , Jeff Butterfield, Phil Davies, Dickie Jeeps, Bryn Meredith and Jim Greenwood, but was not bereft of great internationals such as the Newport wing Ken Jones who toured New Zealand with the Lions in 1950.
  2. In 1977, the Lions played the Barbarians as a charity fund-raiser held as part of the Queen's silver jubilee celebrations. The Baa-Baas line-up featuring JPR Williams, Gerald Davies, Gareth Edwards, Jean-Pierre Rives and Jean-Claude Skrela.
  3. In 1986, a match was organised against a Rest of the World XV as both a warm-up to the 1986 South Africa tour, whch was subsequently cancelled, and as a celebration match to mark the International Board's centenary. The Lions won 15–7, but never toured.
  4. In 1989, Rob Andrew captained the Lions in their victory against France in Paris. The game formed part of the celebrations of the bi-centennial of the French Revolution.

See also



a. Name of the Lions in the languages of Britain and Ireland:


  1. Griffiths (1987), pg 9:3.
  2. Griffiths (1987), pg 9:6.
  3. Godwin (1981), pg 231.
  4. Griffiths (1987), pg 9:8.
  5. Lions name is a source of great pride The Times 19 June 2009
  9. Lions at Home

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