The trio all left out big names when picking the cream of the crop but they also handed the opportunity of a lifetime to a number of relative unknowns and less-fancied outsiders as the Lions prepared to take on the Springboks, Wallabies and All Blacks on foreign soil.
Here's a quick look back at who went, who didn't and who arrived late on each of the southern hemisphere adventures since the game turned professional…
Squad size: 37
Nationality split: England 8, Ireland 14, Scotland 2, Wales 13
Changes to the squad prior to departure: 4
Replacements called up on tour: 4
Full-backs: Lee Byrne, Rob Kearney
Wings: Shane Williams, Leigh Halfpenny, Ugo Monye, Luke Fitzgerald, Tommy Bowe
Centres: Tom Shanklin, Jamie Roberts, Brian O'Driscoll, Keith Earls, Riki Flutey
Fly-halves: Ronan O'Gara, Stephen Jones
Scrum-halves: Mike Phillips, Harry Ellis, Tomas O'Leary
Props: Gethin Jenkins, Adam Jones, Andrew Sheridan, Phil Vickery, Euan Murray
Hookers: Jerry Flannery, Lee Mears, Matthew Rees
Locks: Paul O'Connell, Alun Wyn Jones, Donncha O'Callaghan, Nathan Hines, Simon Shaw
Back rows: David Wallace, Stephen Ferris, Alan Quinlan, Joe Worsley, Martyn Williams, Jamie Heaslip, Andy Powell
In 2009, McGeechan went back to a smaller party for the 10-game tour of South Africa but that didn't lessen the number of surprise inclusions for the most recent Lions outing.
Rewind six months prior to picking the squad in April of that year and five of McGeechan's chosen few were untested at the top level. Wales duo Leigh Halfpenny and Andy Powell only made their Test debuts in November 2008, while the same was also true of England pair Ugo Monye and Riki Flutey and Ireland's Keith Earls.
Munster utility back Earls scored with his first touch of the ball on his Ireland debut against Canada at Thomond Park, while Powell picked up the man of the match award on his opening appearance in Wales' win over the Springboks that same month, with both men making a major impression on McGeechan.
Halfpenny got his first taste of international rugby in the same game as Powell and Monye and Flutey began their claims for a Lions spot when they were picked together for England's win over the Pacific Islanders at Twickenham.
Even future HSBC Player of the Tour Jamie Roberts had only been chosen to start for Wales for the first time in spring 2008, while Tomas O'Leary, who was an original Lions selection before injury robbed him of a place on the plane, hadn't made a Test start for Ireland until they took on the All Blacks in the autumn of that year.
At the other end of the experience spectrum, Simon Shaw made a return to South Africa with the Lions 12 years after featuring on one of the most memorable tours ever seen. Aged 35-and-a-half, Shaw's hopes had been written off for much of the lead up to the tour but he proved an inspired choice as he went on to win the man of the match award in the second Test at Loftus Versfeld.
Simon Shaw repaid the faith shown in him by his Wasps boss Sir Ian McGeechan in South Africa in 2009
Alan Quinlan's inclusion was met with greater surprise still as he pipped Tom Croft to a spot in what was reportedly one of the toughest calls McGeechan and co had to make. The Munster flanker wasn't a regular for Ireland and had only been seen as an outside bet prior to the announcement but his strength of character off the field appeared to swing things in his favour, with McGeechan stating he would have 'a big impact on the environment and the character of the squad as it evolves'.
Flutey's selection was expected given his ball-playing ability but it still raised some eyebrows as the New Zealander had only qualified for England on residency grounds and had played against the Lions four years earlier in his native New Zealand.
McGeechan also made headlines in '09 for the players he didn't pick, after he left out national captains Steve Borthwick, Mike Blair and Ryan Jones from his original party. 'Mr Lions' picked on form and fitness as he sought the perfect combination of old and new. He wasn't afraid to upset the apple cart in that respect but he was forced into a considerable number of changes to his squad before they headed south.
Injury and suspension meant four of his first-choice party couldn't travel, while another wasn't able to leave on time as his rehabilitation took a little longer than at first hoped.
O'Leary was the first to be ruled out when he broke his ankle playing for Munster just three days after the squad announcement and Tom Shanklin followed suit after he suffered a serious shoulder setback in another domestic encounter in early May. Ireland hooker Jerry Flannery fell victim to the injury curse when he damaged his elbow during pre-tour training at Pennyhill Park, while Halfpenny had to fly separately as he stayed with medical staff at the Cardiff Blues to battle back from a leg injury.
Quinlan's dream came to a premature end after he was banned for making contact with the eye area of Leo Cullen during Munster's Heineken Cup semi-final defeat to Leinster so Croft did eventually win a call up after being considered so unlucky to initially miss out.
Blair and Ross Ford doubled the Scottish presence by stepping into the squad in place of O'Leary and Flannery, with James Hook covering Halfpenny's late arrival. McGeechan opted against calling up a replacement for Shanklin, though, meaning Delon Armitage was again overlooked despite a strong season and plenty of English backing.
Squad size: 44 confirmed (3 more named fitness permitting)
Nationality split: England 20, Ireland 11, Scotland 3, Wales 10
Changes to the squad prior to departure: 1, plus 1 fitness confirmation and 2 failed fitness tests
Replacements called up on tour: 5
Back three: Iain Balshaw, Geordan Murphy, Josh Lewsey, Gareth Thomas, Jason Robinson, Shane Horgan, Denis Hickie, Shane Williams
Centres: Gordon D'Arcy, Will Greenwood, Gavin Henson, Brian O'Driscoll, Tom Shanklin, Ollie Smith
Fly-halves: Charlie Hodgson, Stephen Jones, Ronan O'Gara
Scrum-halves: Gareth Cooper, Chris Cusiter, Matt Dawson, Dwayne Peel
Props: John Hayes, Gethin Jenkins, Graham Rowntree, Andrew Sheridan, Matt Stevens, Julian White
Hookers: Gordon Bulloch, Shane Byrne, Steve Thompson, Andy Titterrell
Locks: Danny Grewcock, Ben Kay, Donncha O'Callaghan, Paul O'Connell, Malcolm O'Kelly
Back rows: Neil Back, Martin Corry, Lawrence Dallaglio, Richard Hill, Lewis Moody, Michael Owen, Simon Taylor, Martyn Williams
The 2005 tour to New Zealand featured far more tourists than previous adventures so there was always going to be room for a few inexperienced players within Woodward's squad, yet there were still a few eyebrows raised at some of his preferences.
Woodward opted for the vast majority of his World Cup winning group but he also plumped for four Englishmen who had no more than five caps each prior to departure.
Sale hooker Andy Titterrell hadn't started a Test for his country before receiving his Lions call, while clubmate Andrew Sheridan had begun just one international ahead of a huge step up. Leicester centre Ollie Smith had five caps to his name but four of those had been as a replacement, while Matt Stevens had started just three games and made two more outings from the bench.
The main talking point centred not on who definitely would or wouldn't be heading to NZ but on who might be touring. England's World Cup hero Jonny Wilkinson hogged most of the headlines after he was one of three players selected on condition of proving his fitness prior to departure. Wilkinson had endured an injury-ravaged year-and-a-half since kicking his country to global glory, playing only 937 minutes between that famous November night in Sydney and his second Lions adventure. The then 25-year-old had missed England's RBS 6 Nations defence, the summer tour and the autumn Tests in 2004 with shoulder and arm injuries before also being forced to sit out the 2005 Championship campaign with a knee problem.
Woodward wanted his star man on board, however, and he picked him alongside fellow England internationals Mike Tindall and Phil Vickery as players who would be involved fitness permitting. Tindall and Vickery failed to meet the mark before the squad headed off but Wilkinson was officially added to the party on May 8.
Jonny Wilkinson was the centre of attention when it came to selection for the 2005 tour to New Zealand
As well as leaving out centre Tindall and Lions Test prop Vickery, Woodward was forced to make another change to his plans when Iain Balshaw tore a thigh muscle prior to departure. The 2001 Lion was replaced in the squad by Sale's Mark Cueto who would go on to appear in the third Test against the All Blacks.
A further five players were called up during the tour itself, with Simon Shaw, Simon Easterby, Ryan Jones, Brent Cockbain and Jason White taking over from Malcolm O'Kelly, Lawrence Dallaglio, Ryan Jones, Danny Grewcock and Richard Hill respectively.
Of the 44 players plus Wilkinson initially named, three didn't travel with the squad on the first flight. Jason Robinson was given special dispensation to arrive late in order to spend time with his pregnant wife, while Welsh pair Stephen Jones and Gareth Thomas were forced to delay their involvement due to their commitments in the French Top 14.
Squad size: 37
Nationality split: England 18, Ireland 6, Scotland 3, Wales 10
Changes to the squad prior to departure: 0
Replacements called up on tour: 7
Fullbacks: Iain Balshaw, Matt Perry
Wings: Ben Cohen, Dafydd James, Dan Luger, Jason Robinson
Centres: Mike Catt, Will Greenwood, Rob Henderson, Brian O'Driscoll, Mark Taylor
Fly-halves: Neil Jenkins, Ronan O'Gara, Jonny Wilkinson
Scrum-halves: Matt Dawson, Austin Healey, Rob Howley
Props: Jason Leonard, Darren Morris, Tom Smith, Phil Vickery, Dai Young
Hookers: Phil Greening, Robin McBryde, Keith Wood
Locks: Jeremy Davidson, Danny Grewcock, Martin Johnson, Scott Murray, Malcolm O'Kelly
Back rows: Neil Back, Colin Charvis, Lawrence Dallaglio, Richard Hill, Scott Quinnell, Simon Taylor, Martyn Williams
The biggest selection call for the class of 2001 hard arguably taken place before the squad announcement when Henry was confirmed as the Lions' first foreign coach in 113 years of touring. The New Zealander's appointment was met with fierce opposition in some quarters and that criticism continued when reports of disunity in the camp spread during the Lions' time Down Under.
In terms of the men he chose to take to Australia, Henry faced suggestions that he had been too kind to his own Welsh players, with the likes of hooker Robin McBryde singled out for abuse from some sections of the press and public. But one of the major discussions to follow Henry' s announcement focused on one Welshman he didn't pick as opposed to the 10 that he did.
Scott Gibbs had been one of the stars of the last Lions adventure to South Africa in 1997, leaving an indelible impression on the Springbok psyche with his huge hits and barreling runs as the tourists shocked the then World Champions in Durban and Cape Town. Gibbs had been nothing short of sensational alongside Jerry Guscott in the centres four years earlier but Henry decided he wasn't needed this time around. Mark Taylor, Brian O'Driscoll, Will Greenwood, Mike Catt and Rob Henderson all got the nod over Gibbs despite the latter being a regular in Henry's Wales side that season.
The biggest call in terms of who Henry did pick was arguably Simon Taylor, the young Scottish back row forward who had to rearrange his university law exams to accept the Kiwi's invitation. Taylor had only made his international bow in November 2000 and had then spent time on the sidelines in the lead up to and during the early part of the 6 Nations with a fractured hand. With just five caps to his name, Taylor was one of only three Scots in the party and the only player actually based in Scotland to make the cut.
Another standout selection for the first adventure of the 21st century was England back Jason Robinson. His inclusion might not seem like a risk now given what he went on to achieve but it was a huge call for Henry at the time. Robinson had only made a permanent switch from rugby league the previous year and didn't make his Test debut until the 2001 6 Nations. The former Wigan star was clearly a talent, but Henry and co picked him on what they hoped he could do at the top level of the union tree rather than on what they knew he could. It was a gamble that paid off in stunning circumstances as Robinson scored five tries on his Lions debut against a Queensland President's XV, before stepping Wallaby full back Chris Latham on a sixpence to set his side on their way to an historic first Test win in Brisbane.
Jason Robinson proved an inspired selection when the Lions last toured Australia 12 years ago
The Lions weren't struck by any major injury problems before setting off but they did have to call for seven replacements on tour - the second highest tally behind the eight that were used in 1980. After all the hoo-hah surrounding his non-selection, Gibbs played his part on a third straight tour after replacing the unfortunate Mike Catt. Tyrone Howe, Martin Corry, Gordon Bulloch, Dorian West, David Wallace and Andy Nicol were also added to the party, with Scotland's Nicol answering a last-minute scrum-half SOS call having been over in Oz enjoying all that goes with leading a supporters tour.
Squad size: 35
Nationality split: England 18, Ireland 4, Scotland 5, Wales 8
Changes to the squad prior to departure: 1
Replacements called up on tour: 5
Full backs: Neil Jenkins, Tim Stimpson
Wings: Nick Beal, John Bentley, Ieuan Evans, Tony Underwood
Centres: Allan Bateman, Scott Gibbs, Will Greenwood, Jeremy Guscott, Alan Tait
Fly-halves: Paul Grayson, Gregor Townsend
Scrum-halves: Matt Dawson, Austin Healy, Rob Howley
Props: Peter Clohessy, Jason Leonard, Graham Rowntree, Tom Smith, Dai Young
Hookers: Mark Regan, Barry Williams, Keith Wood
Locks: Jeremy Davidson, Martin Johnson, Simon Shaw, Doddie Weir
Back rows: Neil Back, Lawrence Dallaglio, Richard Hill, Eric Miller, Scott Quinnell, Tim Rodber, Rob Wainwright
One of the key calls in 1997 came in the shape of who McGeechan took as his midfield choices and who he left at home. The man who had led the two previous Lions tours in 1989 and 1993 left two England captains back in blighty as Phil de Glanville and Will Carling missed out. Carling was supposedly sounded out about the possibility of making up for a poor first Lions adventure in '93 but, whether he ruled himself out of the running or simply put doubt in the minds of McGeechan and tour manager Fran Cotton, he and the man who replaced him as his country's captain didn't head south. Instead it was another England centre who got the nod - the one de Glanville and Carling had kept out of the Test team that season. Jerry Guscott was given a chance to put his England disappointments behind him and he did that in perfect style, kicking the late drop goal that secured series success at King's Park.
The other leading subject line centred around the inclusion of a hefty number of ex-rugby league stars, with a total of six making McGeechan's 35-man squad. Allan Bateman, John Bentley, Scott Gibbs, Scott Quinnell, Alan Tait and Dai Young would go on to play a vital role, with their professionalism highlighted as a huge factor in the Lions' first-class attitude in South Africa.
Two more Englishmen received plenty of headlines with their inclusion as McGeechan decided that England were wrong to suggest that Neil Back was too small to play Test rugby and a little shortsighted in overlooking Will Greenwood's talents as he became the latest and last uncapped tourist.
Triple tourist Will Greenwood wore the red of the Lions before he wore the white of England
Everyone remembers Paul Wallace's starring role in demoralising the Springbok scrum but the Saracens prop wasn't initially named in the squad. Instead it was his fellow Irishman Peter Clohessy who was selected but the more experienced front rower had to pull out with a back injury on the first day of their pre-tour training camp and just a week before departure.
McGeechan called on five more men while in South Africa as four England internationals and one Scot were added to the party. Mike Catt, Nigel Redman, Tony Diprose, Kyran Bracken and Tony Stanger all received their first taste of Lions action, with only Catt earning selection for a future adventure.