The British and Irish Lions are in New Zealand. The true tests haven’t even begun yet and Warren Gatland’s men have already faced a pretty torrid time. Beatings from smaller sides like the Highlanders and Blues, injuries and questionable call-ups have all dampened the tour a little thus far.
That said, the Lions were rampant against the Maori All-Blacks on Saturday, thumping them 32-10 and then again in their final warm-up game against the Chiefs, winning 34-6. And the week before the nicked they game against the Crusaders. Leigh Halfpenny is in fine form now and they can go into their first game against New Zealand with some confidence.
Will they win the series, though? Maybe, maybe not. History might suggest it’s unlikely (of the 11 tours played against the Kiwis, the Lions have won only one before). But there’s always an upset around in the corner in the world of sport, isn’t there? They’ve won just six matches in the All Blacks’ backyard before. Here’s hoping they can build on that, eh?
Here’s what happened on those six memorable occasions that the Lions stunned New Zealand…
21st June 1930: Lions 6 – 3 New Zealand
“The principles and ideals which guided the founders of the rugby union cannot be stressed too forcibly. Rugby should and must be played for the love of the game.” – Doug Prentice, Lions captain, 1930.
Now that little quote can be taken one of two ways. It’s either a wonderful explanation as to the context of sport or it’s the sound of a sportsman lacking in confidence. Prentice was presiding over a team that had never won in New Zealand. Albeit they’d only played there four times and had managed a draw the last time they’d travelled, some 22 years ago.
This was the first time the Lions were officially playing as ‘The Lions’, six years after it had been given to them by a journalist as a nickname. Their solitary victory in the four-match Test saw them triumph 13-10, with pacy back row forward Ivor Jones sprinting the entire pitch to lay the try on for Jack Morley.
19th September 1959: Lions 9 – 6 New Zealand
It was to be 29 years before The Lions were to win against the New Zealand again. But when manager Alf Wilson and captain Ronnie Dawson headed to the southern hemisphere in 1959, they went with their tails up. A new brand of expansive and attacking rugby saw them head out onto the Carisbrook field on 18th July 1959 full of confidence. But they were to lose that first match by just a single point…
But, they went on to lose the next two tests in the series by ever bigger defeats. So, on the 19th September, the All Blacks went into the fourth test as huge favourites. Only to be humbled 9-6 by the visitors. The Lions were on fine try-scoring form all tour, but tries counted for only three points back then. Under current scoring rules, the series would have been drawn 2-2. As it was, though? It was a galling 3-1 defeat.
26th June 1971: Lions 9 – 3 New Zealand
While England’s football team were celebrating a fine year in 1966, the British & Irish Lions were having an awful summer. A 4-0 series defeat to the All Blacks was a tour to forget. Five years later, though? It all came together. In 1971, The Lions stood their best chance ever of going to New Zealand and upsetting their hosts.
They won the first match 9-3 and celebrated wildly. It was a fantastic result. Could they build on it? Well, they lost their second match. Was the tide turning back in the All Blacks favour? Or could The Lions triumph in the series…?
31st July 1971: Lions 13 – 3 New Zealand
They could. Carwyn James’ men stayed calm and won the third match 13-9. All they needed to do was avoid defeat in the fourth and final test and they’d won the series.
Game #4 wasn’t a classic by any stretch of the imagination. And the Lions didn’t win. But nor did they lose. It ended 14-14. Thanks, in no small part, to a 45 metre drop goal from JPR Williams (who – having never scored a drop goal before in his career – apparently bet that he manage the feat pre-game…).
9th July 1977: Lions 13 – 9 New Zealand
1977 was a year of revolution. While punk rocked the UK, it was all change for The Lions too. They headed to their tour of New Zealand having won their previous series there. For the first ever time, the mob from the northern hemisphere were fancied.
Much loved 1971 captain John Dawes was now Head Coach. His captain? Phil Bennett. Then there were the likes of JJ Williams, Mike Gibson, Ian McGeechan and Andy Irvine. It was a formidable line-up.
The first match was tough, but the hosts pipped it 16-12. The Lions needed to win at their second attempt. And did so after a bruising encounter, running out 13-9 victors. It was all set up for them to pinch a second successive series. But it wasn’t to be. Matches three and four went the way of the All Blacks. A disappointing 3-1 loss was recorded.
26 June 1993: Lions 20 – 7 New Zealand
British and Irish rugby fans had to wait 16 long years for another victory against NZ. It would come in Wellington on 26th June 1993. The Underwood brothers playing under Gavin Hastings (whose brother Scott also made the tour) ran their socks off.
The first test saw a last second penalty break Lions’ hearts. The second test ended 20-7 to the visitors, the biggest win recorded in New Zealand by The Lions. Celebrations went into the night. The test came down to a third and final game. A decider.
The Lions opened up a quick ten-point lead but it was gradually nibbled away at. At half time the score at Eden Park was 14-10 to the hosts. The second half saw the Kiwis run away with things. They won 30-13.
So, then. History would suggest that the All Blacks should win this tour. But The Lions have done it before, they can do it again. Here’s hoping for an upset…