British & Irish Lions Tours in the Professional Era

Warren Gatland will be the third New Zealand born head coach to lead a British & Irish Lions team into one of their tours, earning the job for the 2013 visit to Australia thanks to winning two Grand Slams with Wales in the Six Nations and reaching the World Cup semifinal in 2011.

Gatland will hope to turn some fortunes around, as the Lions haven’t won a tour series since 1997 in South Africa, losing to Australia back in 2001 1-2 and looking for their first series win there since 1989.

1997 – Lions Tour South Africa

The last tour won by the Lions, headed by Scottish coach Ian McGeechan, coaching the Lions in four different tours, and captained by England’s Martin Johnson. This was the first Lions tour in the professional era and the first in South Africa after the end of apartheid in that country.

The Springboks were the reigning world champions, but were a side on the decline, winning only one match in the 1996 Tri-Nations tournament. The Lions won the first match in Cape Town 25-16, backed by Neil Jenkins kicking five penalties and Matt Dawson and Alan Tait scoring tries. A week later in Durban, England squeaked by the Boks without scoring a try. Neil Jenkins hit five penalties and Jerry Guscott dropped a goal that won the match 18-15. South Africa won the third test in Ellis Park 35-16.

2001 – Lions Touring Australia

Martin Johnson became the first player to captain a Lions side twice, while New Zealand’s Graham Henry became the first person from the Southern Hemisphere to coach a Lions squad since 1904. The Lions were convincing in the first test at the Gabba in Brisbane, winning 29-13, with tries from Jason Robinson, Dafydd James, Brian O’Driscoll and Scott Quinnell, helped by Jonny Wilkinson scoring six points with his boots en route to a 29-13 win.

The second test in Melbourne was completely different, with Australia demolishing the Lions 35-14. Joe Roff scored two tries and Matt Burke scored six penalties while the Lions struggled with discipline on the field, enjoying only one try and three Wilkinson penalties. The third and deciding test was played in Sydney in front of 84,188 fans. The Lions grabbed a 20-16 lead early in the second half through a Wilkinson try, but Daniel Herbert soon answered with his second try of the match to give the Wallabies a 23-20 lead. Wilkinson made it 23-23 with a penalty kick, but Burke hit two more penalties in the closing minutes to give Australia a 29-23 win and their first series win over the Lions.

2005 – Lions Humiliated in New Zealand

England becoming the first NH side to win a Rugby World Cup got Clive Woodward the job as Lions head coach, selecting a mostly English side, despite Wales being the dominant force that year in the Six Nations tournament. The first match in Christchurch began terribly, with Brian O’Driscoll, one of the three captains, was spear tackled by Tana Umaga and Keven Mealamu, forced to leave the match. They scored only three points to the All Blacks’ 21, with O’Driscoll ruled out for the rest of the tour.

The second test didn’t go much better – conceding the highest number of points against a New Zealand team in a Test, losing 48-18. They had a good start, but a second half show by Dan Carter, finishing with two tries, four conversions and five penalties led to another disappointing result. The third test in Auckland wasn’t much closer, with the All-Blacks winning 38-19 despite a 6-0 start for the Lions.

2009 – Disappointment in South Africa

Again the Lions traveled to South Africa after the Springboks won a world title. Ian McGeechan was selected as the head coach once again, with Paul O’Connell from Ireland as the captain. The Springboks dominated the first test in Durban, leading 26-7 after 50 minutes, with a decent Lions comeback not being enough, losing 26-21.

The second test was noted for its drama and for the physicality of it, with two South African players, Schalk Burger and Bakkies Botha suspended after the match. Burger was suspended for eye gouging Luke Fitzgerald, although he wasn’t sent off during the match. Botha was banned for two weeks, although many believed that was too harsh of a reaction.

South Africa won the second test 28-25, with Morne Steyn scoring a 52 meter penalty kick after the 80 minutes were over.

The third test was won by the Lions 28-9, being the first test victory for the Lions since their win in Brisbane over Australia in 2001, although they lost their third consecutive tour series.