When the British and Irish Lions play Argentina in Cardiff on May 23 rd , they will be making only their third official appearance on home soil.
Teams styled as ‘Lions’ have turned out on five previous occasions, but only twice have they been fully at tour party strength – against the Barbarians at Twickenham in 1977 and against a Rest of the World XV in Cardiff in 1986.
Two of the three unofficial matches also took place at the Arms Park, in 1951 and 1955. The first contest was against the Cardiff club side, which the ‘Lions’ won 14-12, while the second was staged to mark the 75 th anniversary of the Welsh Rugby Union.
The Lions side that beat a Welsh XV 23-14 did not include all the big names of the 1955 tour, such as Tony O’Reilly , Jeff Butterfield, Phil Davies, Dickie Jeeps, Bryn Meredith and Jim Greenwood. It did, however, did feature the great Newport wing Ken Jones who toured New Zealand with the Lions in 1950.
The official 1977 match, a charity fund-raiser held as part of the Queen’s silver jubilee celebrations, nearly did not take place, as the players initially threatened to boycott the match when their wives and partners were not invited to attend.
The organisers relented and the Lions beat a Baa-Baas line-up featuring JPR Williams, Gerald Davies , Gareth Edwards , Jean-Pierre Rives and Jean-Claude Skrela 23-14.
Nine years later, a similar fixture to the 2005 warm-up was arranged – like this year’s match, in Cardiff – to prepare the side for the impending tour to South Africa.
The game, which doubled as a celebration match to mark the International Board’s centenary, went ahead; the tour did not, having already been called off by the hosts under political pressure at the turn of the year.
The home side won 15-7, but that was as close as they got to Lions status that year.
Since then, only one more pseudo-Lions combination has taken the field in a non-tour match. That was after the 1989 tour , when a team was put together to face France in Paris as part of the French Republic’s anniversary celebrations.
A side missing several of that year’s tourists – including captain Finlay Calder – was beaten 29-27.