The British & Irish Lions

Tour to New Zealand 2017

HSBC | Principal Partner | British & Irish Lions | Tour to Australia 2013

1888 | New Zealand & Australia

Lions Rugby 1888 Australia & New ZealandJust as rugby union itself began with football, so Lions rugby began with cricket. In 1888, sporting entrepreneurs Alfred Shaw and Arthur Shrewsbury had already successfully exported an English cricket side to tour Australia. Now a rugby version was next on their agenda.

Off the field, the tour hit trouble before it even left England and suffered tragedy with a third of its marathon 54-match course to run. On it, though, and despite not playing Test matches, the pioneers were successful enough to establish for good the concept of British tours to the southern hemisphere.

Shaw and Shrewsbury recruited a 22-man squad encompassing England, Scotland and Wales, but dominated by northern English county players. However, they found themselves travelling with one non-playing member after Jack Clowes was banned by the RFU as a professional for accepting £15 in clothing expenses from the management's agent.

Far worse was to come, however, when the tour captain, Robert Seddon of Swinton and Lancashire, was drowned while sculling on the Hunter River after a game at Maitland, New South Wales, on August 13. The tour continued with Andrew Stoddart, also an England cricket captain, taking over the helm.

The oddessy began in New Zealand seven weeks after the team sailed from England on March 8, and the tourists went through the islands unbeaten until falling to Auckland in the last of their nine games in the first leg of the tour.

Their first five games in Australia were also won and it took a change of code to trip the visitors up. Their next 17 games - and a further one later in the tour - were played under Australian or Victorian Rules.

These matches were staged purely for the benefit of the organisers' profits as they were guaranteed to draw far bigger crowds than union contests. Remarkably, the British team actually won six of these, before reverting to the 15-man code and concluding the tour with an unbeaten return to New Zealand for the final 10 matches.

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