Lions Legend: Neil Back

Neil Back is the oldest Lion ever to make a Test appearance and the oldest player ever to be named in an original Lions squad. [more]

Lions Legend: Neil Back

Neil Back is the oldest Lion ever to make a Test appearance and the oldest player ever to be named in an original Lions squad.

Back made history in 2005 when, a year after retiring from international rugby, he was selected in Sir Clive Woodward's squad for the 2005 Lions tour to New Zealand. Back's selection saw him become the oldest player named in an original Lions squad. Then, in Christchurch on June 25, at 36 years and 174 days of age, the Leicester Tigers openside overtook Welshman Charlie Faulkner to become the oldest ever Test Lion.

After making his Lions debut in East London in 1997, Back went on to make 14 appearances across three successive tours, including five Tests in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand respectively. His lengthy playing career ended at the highest possible level when he played his final competitive match in the First Test against New Zealand in 2005.

Neil Back factfile

Date of birth: January 16 1969
Clubs: Nottingham, Leicester
International caps: England 66 (World Cup winner in 2003)
Height: 5ft 10in (1.78m)
Weight: 14 stone (89kg)

Back's Lions lowdown

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Lions debut: Versus Border Bulldogs, East London, May 28, 1997
Lions Tests: 5 (2nd and 3rd Tests 1997, 2nd and 3rd Tests 2001, 1st Test 2005)
Lions non-Test appearances: 10
Total Lions appearances: 15 (eight in 1997, five in 2001, two in 2005)
Lions points: 25 (five tries)
Final Lions appearance: Versus New Zealand, Christchurch, June 25 2005


Here's Neil's views on all things Lions…

On being selected for the 1997 tour

"When my letter inviting me to join that squad hit the doormat, it had me in tears. It's a very special thing. Once you've made it to international level and you've got off the one-cap mark, I suppose the next goal is 50 caps. Very few get to 100. The next step up is to play for the Lions. It's the best of the four Home Nations and it's got tremendous traditions.

"Receiving that letter was a real highlight. The 1997 tour was a massive thing for me. My struggle to get international recognition at the highest level was well documented but it's made me the person I am and I wouldn't change a thing. Being involved with that fantastic Test series win in '97 and having an influence in gaining success in a team sport was a great experience."

On becoming the oldest ever Lions Test player

"It's not something I usually talk about but it's something I'm proud of, becoming the oldest Test Lion. I'm proud to say, having achieved all I have in the game, my last game was in a Lions shirt. That was a fantastic way to bow out of the game, even though it wasn't the most successful tour."


On the power of four

"When you walk into a Lions camp as an England, Scotland, Ireland or Wales player, you become a Lion. It's great to rub shoulders with some of the greatest players ever to play the game in the Northern Hemisphere. To share their views and outlooks and get a different point of view on things is excellent.

"I made some fantastic lifelong friends from the tours. You share moments both on and off the pitch that you'll never forget. I'm very proud and very pleased to have been involved in that."

On the travelling Lions support

"The atmosphere and the fans are fantastic. They are unbelievable. When we walked into that stadium before the First Test in 2001 you knew, if you didn't know already, what the Lions is all about. That was one of the highlights. It was a sea of red. The hairs on the back of your neck and all over your body were standing on end and you knew it was something special. I think that's why that performance on that day was as it was.

"Fans are quite rightly passionate about their own team, whichever country they follow, but when they come together and put the red of the Lions on it's something really special. The great ting about rugby union is that there's no segregation, the banter is fantastic and, on a Lions tour, everyone comes together and they become Lions."

On Sir Ian McGeechan

"Although I was on standby for the 1993 tour, I hadn't been capped then so I didn't really expect to go. It was Ian who pencilled me in for the 1997 tour. I had seven caps by then and I'd played in the 1995 World Cup which had given me a bit of profile but it was his recognition of what I could bring on the hard grounds of South Africa that really influenced my selection.

"Ian makes everyone feel that they have an opportunity. I went into the 1997 tour as a non-Saturday player but, through him, I was given a carrot and I definitely believed that, if I played well enough, I'd be given an opportunity and that's what happened.

"Ian kept everyone involved and motivated and he was very supportive. That was highlighted after the First Test win in '97 when the guys who were involved in that Test were all out the next day helping the other guys prepare for the mid-week game. That was indicative of the players that were there and what was influenced by Ian."


On touring South Africa

"The South Africans love their rugby. They're very passionate, very physical and a very proud nation. In 1997, we went here, there and everywhere and experienced their hospitality both on and off the field. It was fantastic. I loved playing on the hard, fast grounds week-in, week-out. The conditions in terms of the heat and the altitude didn't really worry me. It suited my game back then.

"In 1997, the security risk was potentially higher than it is now. We had a lot of plain clothes people that we didn't know protecting us. That was a bit of a concern but I never felt threatened when I was there. To see the barbed wire around the houses, the fences and the security, did put a bit of an edge to it but I suppose you were in a bit of a cocoon. What you'll get before the match is the pom pom girls and the cheerleaders that will test people's concentration as they enter the arena!"

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