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Dublin: 12°C Friday 23 April 2021

"I gambled and it paid off" - Lions legend Ieuan Evans on series-winning try in 1989

The Welsh winger pounced on a loose David Campese pass to beat the Australians.

Ieuan Evans and Gavin Hastings celebrate in 1989.
Ieuan Evans and Gavin Hastings celebrate in 1989.
Image: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

LOOKING FOR A bit of inspiration ahead of the final Test between the Lions and Australia tomorrow? You’ve come to the right place. caught up with the last man to clinch a Lions series against the Aussies. George North and Tommy Bowe, take note…

Ieaun Evans can still recall the moment when, 24 years ago, he won the 1989 Test Series for the Lions. The Welsh winger, who played a part in the series win over South Africa eight years later, pounced on a loose David Campese pass and touched down ahead of Wallaby fullback Greg Martin to clinch a 19-18 win in the Third Test.

Evans recalled, “It was the worst dropped goal attempt I’ve ever seen from Rob Andrew. It looked like it was going to bounce over near the touchline before Campese caught it behind his tryline and took off on a run.

As a winger, you chase these balls and players that look like lost causes but, sometimes, it bears fruit. In the first half, Campese threw a dummy and I bought it. I gambled again and it paid off.”

The errant throw from ‘Campo’ was famously described as ‘Mickey Mouse rugby’ as The Lions came back from 1-0 down to win the series 2-1.

YouTube credit: LasGarzas11

Evans told, “I always felt sorry for Campo and the criticism he copped for it. He was castigated for that mistake. You just have to think of his performance against New Zealand at the World Cup, two years later, when he single-handedly beat them. He was one of the finest players I’ve ever come up against and would do anything to win games for his time. Fortunately for us, on that occasion, he tried something and it didn’t come off.”

Six-year gap

While the current crop of Welsh Lions are none too familiar with defeating Australia, Evans had played them once, and won, at the third-place playoff in the 1987 World Cup. He was 25-years-old and had scored seven tries in 18 Tests when he was named in Ian McGeechan’s 30-man squad to travel Down Under.

“As there had been no Lions Tour in 1986, there was a six year gap and we only had two lads that had previously toured,” said Evans. “There was 28 of us in the squad that hadn’t toured with The Lions before so it really was a novel experience. Only Donal Lenihan and Bob Norster had travelled before so their experience was invaluable.

“I remember the whole squad getting together in London and it was like the first day at school – all these new faces and everyone keen to absorb all this new information. The idea was that we were starting off with a blank sheet of paper. Whatever your status with the national side, it now meant nothing. You had to prove yourself all over again.”

Evans (seated) with Paul Dean, Finlay Calder and Chris Oti in 1989. (Tim Ockenden/PA Archive)

Evans impressed in the warm-up matches and got the 14 jersey for the First Test at the Sydney Football Ground. “I grew up when The Lions were making history in 1971 and ‘74. I was very conscious of the legacy and the heritage of the team; men like Gerald Davies, Barry John, Willie John McBride, JPR Williams. He recalled:

When I got hold of my jersey. I just stared at it. It was a surreal moment. You conjure up images of your heroes in that jersey and the feats they have achieved before you.”

Going into the Test Series, Evans remembers a confident mood in the camp. Whether with was the presumptive first team or the midweek side led by Lenihan – Donal’s Donuts – The Lions swept early challenges aside from the welcoming committee. “We had a lot of strong personalities, a lot of players at the start of their international careers, on that tour. We fancied our chances.”

The Wallabies triumphed 30-12 and the tour was soon in danger of imploding. “We got thoroughly beaten up in the First Test,” admitsEvans. “We lost every single battle that day and lost four tries to zip.”

Donuts stop the rot

It was the next game up, Evans reveals, against the ACT Brumbies that saved the tour. Evans said, “Donal’s Donuts won the tightest game you’re ever likely to see (23-21) against the Brumbies. That helped to galvanise that tour and saved it from going off the rails as it gave us all energy. If they had lost that match, and it was close, who knows how it all would’ve ended.”

The Test side was freshened up, with players such as Mike Teague, Jeremy Guscott and Scott Hastings coming in. Evans commented, “The Second Test was a ferocious affair in Ballymore. We had been outmuscled in Sydney and had to show, from the outset, that this was a different contest.”

The Welshman believes the 1989 Lions were shaped in the image of tour captain Finlay Calder. Evans said, “He had this gravitas about him. He spoke quietly but there was a lot of menace in his voice. Calder was the type of guy who heard speak before you stepped forward and said ‘I’m with him’. He’s the finest captain I’ve ever played with.”

Finlay Calder and Ian McGeechan in the Lions changing room. (©INPHO/Billy Stickland)

The Third Test was Gavin Hastings versus Michael Lynagh until Campese’s kamikaze moment, and Evans’ opportunism, in the closing stages. A first series win in 15 years was secured against a team that would use the sting of defeat to inspire them at the 1991 World Cup. Evans says, “This is a team that went travelled to Europe and achieved a Grand Slam tour before winning the World Cup. We always knew we would be up against it but, after the Second Test, we had the momentum and it was just enough.”

Momentum proved a real problem for years later as The Lions lost six of 13 tour games, including two from three against the All Blacks, in New Zealand. “We didn’t quite have that competition for places that we had in ‘89,” Evans admitted. “We came across strong sides. New Zealand was a relentless tour and you need your squad more so than you do in Australia. Losing so emphatically is still the biggest disappointment I’ve ever had on the rugby field.”

Finishing on a high

There was an injection of new faces into the 1997 Lions squad to tour South Africa and take on the world-champion Springboks. England’s Martin Johnson led the touring side that included Evans (33) as its oldest member and Irish back-row Eric Miller (21) as its youngest.

Evans featured on the wing in the 25-16 First Test win at Cape Town. Before the pivotal, second Test, an injury would end Evans’ tour participation. He recalled:

I was running in a training session in Blomfontein on the Tuesday (before a midweek win over Free State) and my groin went. Snap, bang. I tore an inch of bone off my groin and was carried off the field in a heap.”

Evans’ family landed in South Africa just as his long road to recovery was beginning. On the plus side, he says, they did get to witness a Lions team clinch the best-of-three series after ‘reacting well to the watershed moments’ and relying on the trusty boot of Welsh teammate Neil Jenkins.

Jeremy Guscott, Martin Johnson and Neil Jenkins celebrate defeating the Springboks. (©INPHO/Billy Stickland)

“His kicking game was exceptional,” says Evans. “He had not played 15 at that level before but, now and again, you have to be selfless for the team. He was nerveless out there and got us into a position to win the series.”

A Lions series winner, two times over. Legends like Brian O’Driscoll, Adam Jones and Paul O’Connell would settle for one series, achieved in Sydney, tomorrow.

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About the author:

Patrick McCarry

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