The British & Irish Lions

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1938 | South Africa

Lions Team 1938 South AfricaAs the last Lions of the pre-war era set off for South Africa against a backdrop of looming conflict, their on-field prospects were considered similarly black.

They were by no means a weak side but were at least half a dozen stars short of being the best of British, and in Danie Craven's Springboks they were up against the unofficial world champions.

In the bare facts of the final analysis, the Lions lost the Test series 2-1 but they played a full part in three of the most memorable Tests ever seen in South Africa, scored more points than any previous visiting team and enjoyed a riotous time off the field.

The tourists were managed by Major Bernard 'Jock' Hartley and captained by Ireland forward Sam Walker. Although they missed some leading names of the day, including Wilf Wooller and Cliff Jones, they produced some bright performers of their own in winning 17 of their 24 matches.

Among the stand-out players were centre Harry McKibbin, hooker Bill Travers and back-rowers Laurie Duff, Bob Alexander and Blair Mayne.

South Africa went into the series on the back of successive series victories in Australia and New Zealand, while the tourists had established themselves as an attractive, free-scoring side after a hesitant start to their schedule.

The Lions led three times in the opening half of the first Test but ultimately succumbed 26-12 to what Craven rated as one of the best Springbok performances of all time.

In the second international, the Lions had another opponent to contend with - the 96-degree heat of what became known as the Tropical Test. Duff scored the Lions' first try of the series but the sapping heat contributed to their 19-3 defeat.

With the series sealed, the Springboks went into the final Test overconfident and under-prepared. That should not detract from one of the great rugby fightbacks, though, as the Lions, fielding a record eight Irishmen, overturned a 13-3 half-time deficit to win 21-16.

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