It was 85 years ago in South Africa that the term British Lions was first coined when Ronald Cove-Smith’s tourists headed to South Africa.
And one of the major lessons on that tour will not be lost on 2009 head coach Ian McGeechan when he selects his tour party to take on the reigning world champions this summer – that goalkicking is vital.
In what was the first Lions tour after World War 1, Old Merchant Taylor’s and England forward Cove-Smith found his side hampered by poor goalkicking after a succession of injury mishaps.
Disaster struck early in the tour when two goalkicking full backs were ruled out in the opening weeks. Bart’s Hospital’s uncapped William Gainsford was injured in the very first training session and didn’t play a game on tour, while England’s Tom Holliday was ruled out of the rest of the tour after an injury in the opening game.
That left Cove-Smith’s side with no regular goalkicker and, as a result, they managed to convert a mere 10 of their 43 tries. On top of that, they managed to kick only four penalties in 21 games.
It meant the tourists lost nine games – six of them by six points or less – and threw the kicking duties around a number of players. England forward Tom Voyce was the most successful, landing five conversions and three penalties.
Voyce ended the tour as the highest scorer with 37 points – he also scored six tries – but the 1924 Lions ended with a mere 175 points scored at an average of less than nine points per match.
That was never likely to be enough to win the Test series and the Springboks took the rubber 3-0 with one match drawn.
The Wales win, Rowe Harding, played in three of the four Tests and had some harsh words to say about the quality of the tour party in his book published in 1929, Rugby Reminiscences and Opinions.
“The real reason for our failure was that we were not good enough to go abroad as the representatives of the playing strength of these islands. It is not sufficient to send abroad some players of international standard and others who are only second class. Every member of the team must be absolutely first-class, or disaster is bound to overtake it.”
The Lions selectors were hampered by the non-availability of a string of top-flight players for the tour, including England’s 1924 Grand Slam skipper Wavell Wakefield and the brilliant Scottish backs AL (Archibald) Grace and George MacPherson.