1891 | South Africa

The British

& Irish Lions

Tour to New Zealand 2017

1891 | South Africa

Lions Rugby 1891 South AfricaShaw and Shrewsbury's 1888 Australian adventure had been something of a mercenary mission; unsanctioned by the rugby authorities and funded mainly by novelty Aussie Rules matches. Three years later, though, the game's governors had fully embraced the concept of the overseas tour.

Invited to South Africa by the Western Province union and with all costs underwritten by the Cape Colony prime minister, Cecil Rhodes, the British tourists who headed south across the equator in 1891 did so as the first team to travel under the auspices of the Rugby Football Union.

The RFU's backing led to the 21-man party being billed as the English Rugby Football Team, although the fact it contained four Scots, including captain and wing Bill Maclagan, saw it given the British Isles tag retrospectively.

Maclagan's men played 20 matches, including, for the first time, Tests. At this stage, South African rugby at was not yet on a par with that of the Home Unions - although future British tourists would find they were quick to catch up - and the visitors saw off all-comers, scoring 224 points to one.

The star of the tour was England centre Randolph Littleton Aston, who used his 6'3" height and 15-stone bulk - as well as an impressive turn of speed - to power his way over the try-line 30 times in all.

The tourists won the three Tests by margins of 4-0, 3-0 and 4-0, scoring two tries in the first and third rubbers but needing a spectacular goal from a mark by Bill Mitchell to seal the second.

Having taken the catch wide out on halfway, the England full-back reportedly waved his captain's instructions away with the promise, "it's all right, Bill; I'll drop a goal", and duly kicked the only points of the game.

The tourists left one final legacy on their departure: the Currie Cup, a silver trophy presented to Griqualand West as the province producing the best performance they faced, and which remains South African rugby's biggest domestic prize.