The British & Irish Lions

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1955 | South Africa

Lions Team 1955 South AfricaThe 1950 Lions had re-established the profile of the touring team after a 12-year absence caused by the Second World War. Their 1955 successors, however, bettered even that by taking their popularity to unprecedented heights - and exploding the concept of Springbok invincibility to boot.

Captained and managed by the Northern Irish pairing of Robin Thompson and Jack Siggins, the tourists possessed a back division arguably even more talented than their forebears of 1950. And from the moment Cliff Morgan led the party in half-an-hour of song for the crowds who turned out to meet them at Johannesburg airport, they captured the imagination and hearts of their hosts like no Lions before or since.

Wales outside half Morgan, fed by the uncapped English scrum half Dickie Jeeps, was the creative gem of the 1955 backline, while the finisher extraordinaire was Ireland wing Tony O'Reilly, who turned 19 on tour and ran in a record 16 tries in all.

Between these two were the ideal link-men in the England centre pairing of Jeff Butterfield and Phil Davies.The pack boasted an all-Welsh front row in Billy Williams, Bryn Meredith and Courtenay Meredith, another Welsh giant behind them in Rhys Williams and Scottish great Jim Greenwood in the back row, but was never built to take on the muscular Springboks up front.

Instead, open rugby, with all possession to be run directly regardless of quality, was the tourists' creed. Thrillingly, it earned them the best Lions record in the country since 1896 and produced a remarkable 26 tries in the four-match Test series.

The first of those internationals went down as one of the greatest ever played, with the Lions winning 23-22, thanks to tries from Cecil Pedlow, Butterfield, Morgan, Greenwood and O'Reilly - and, ultimately, a missed conversion in injury-time by South Africa full-back Jack van der Schyff.

The Lions felt the Springbok backlash in the second Test, with Tom van Vollenhoven scoring a hat-trick in a 25-9 revenge, only for the Lions - for once tightening up their game - to win the third international 9-6. Facing their first home series defeat in more than half a century, South Africa threw everything they had at the Lions in the fourth Test and outscored them by five tries to two. Their 22-8 defeat meant the tourists had to share the series, but their place in history was already secure.

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