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Memory Lane: How the Lions fared in previous tours down under

The challenge presented by Australia has evolved down through the years.

IN THE GREAT scheme of Lions history, Australia is a fruitful land.

When compared to South Africa or New Zealand, who have each wrought their fair share of carnage on the touring side, Oz stacks up as a poor cousin with just two tour successes from eight (versus the Springboks’ 8/13 or the All Blacks 10/11).

Up until 1966, the Wallabies and their surrounding provinces were merely a warm-up act for the more difficult tasks across the Tasman.

That ’66 tour included DJ O’Brien as manager and nine Irish players in the shape of Mike Gibson, Roger Young, Jerry Walsh, Barry Bresnihan, Ken Kennedy, Ronnie Lamont, Ray McLoughlin, Noel Murphy and Willie John McBride.

Land of the long hard tours

Coached by John Robins, the ’66 Lions went unbeaten through eight games in Australia. A draw with New South Wales in the lead-up to two Test wins (11-8 and 31-0) was the only blemish.

Moving from Brisbane to Invercargill is a shock to the system in many ways.

Defeat to Southland was the first in a 25-game long tour in New Zealand. The tourists won 15 times, but none of the four Tests against the All Blacks (3-20, 12-16, 6-19, 11-24).

Five years later, that chastening experience had focused the minds. Australia this time provided only the Reds and Waratahs as stop-over fixtures before the Lions went on to win a series for the first and only time in the land of the long white cloud (9-3, 12-22, 13-3, 14-14).

The All Blacks and Springboks would occupy the Lions for the next 18 years, and so Australia (with only two wins over the Lions to date) would have to wait a full 23 years between Tests.

Steve Smith, Brendan Mullin and Donal Lenihan could pose for Ireland. ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

That’s the prelude to what Donal Lenihan last week agreed on SkySports was a ‘forgotten tour’.

With six wins from six going into the first Test in 1989, the Lions were roundly beaten out the gate of the Sydney Football Stadium. Michael Lynagh landed a penalty, a drop goal and converted all four tries (from Greg Martin, Lloyd Walker, Dominic Maguire and Scott Gourley) to give the Wallabies a 12-30 victory.

Ireland’s Paul Dean, tour captain Finlay Calder, Ieuan Evans and Chris Oti return triumphant in ’89. Tim Ockenden/PA Wire/Press Association Images

Martin was on the scoresheet again in Brisbane, but this time his was the only try the hosts could manage. The Lions crossed the Ballymore whitewash through Jeremy Guscott and Gavin Hastings. Hastings added a penalty to Rob Andrew’s eight points from the boot and the series was tied with a 19-12 win.

Back in Sydney, the Wallabies looked poised to beat the Lions for the first time over three Tests - their previous ‘series’ win was a one-off Test in 1930 – but then this happened…

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From a commanding position, David Campese’s error pushed all the momentum towards the Lions and they would use the one-point advantage to its fullest with a 19-18 victory.

By the time 2001 rolled around, the last time the British and Irish Lions laid a paw on Aussie turf, the green and gold had changed the game’s landscape.

David Davies/PA Wire/Press Association Images

The days of being a warm-up act were long gone. Australia embraced the professional game like no other nation and firmly claimed pride of the Pacific by lifting the World Cup twice in ten years. This odd historic tradition, though, would finally yield a victory to cement their place as rugby’s innovators.

Brian O’Driscoll announced himself on the world stage during the Lions’ 29-13 victory at The Gabba. The centre would continue to go from strength to strength, yet Australia battled and scrapped to remain within spitting distance and try to force errors. And when Jonny Wilkinson’s pass was intercepted by Joe Roff with the tourists 11-6 to the good, the momentum could only pour one way.

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Daniel Herbert matched Roff’s brace in the third Test and with Matt Burke in near-flawless kicking form, the Lions let the series slip (13-29, 35-14, 29-23).

Australia had redressed the balance, and 12 year’s on it is Britain and Ireland who are desperate to figure out what it’s like to win again.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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