Thursday July 30, 1891 will go down in history as the date of the Lions’ first-ever Test match.
They finally did so in Port Elizabeth in their eighth game of a 20-match tour that spanned two months, winning 4-0 on their way to a convincing whitewash in the three-match series.
Unfortunately for the Lions, the ease with which they won the series has never been repeated. Although others have emerged victorious in Test matches and indeed Test series against the Springboks, the 1891 tourists can claim to be the only pack of Lions to record a series whitewash during 13 tours and 119 years of touring South Africa.
SOUTH AFRICA 0 BRITISH & IRISH LIONS 4
Half-time: 0-4 Venue: Port Elizabeth Attendance: unkown
Scorers: Lions: Tries – Aston, Whittaker; Con – Rotherham
SETTING THE SCENE
The statistics show that the1891 tourists were a remarkable, and record-breaking, squad.
The Lions took 21 players on their second tour, which, unlike the 1888 tour of Australia and New Zealand, was sanctioned by the RFU.
All of the squad came from England or Scotland and, whereas the 1888 tourists had been largely 'working men', half the players that toured South Africa were already or later became internationals.
The tour was managed by Edward Ash, a well-known and respected member of the Richmond club and a former secretary of the RFU.
By the time the Lions took on South Africa in the first of three Tests, they had already given the locals a taste of their abilities, winning seven matches in the build up to the Port Elizabeth encounter.
They would go on to win all 20 tour matches, scoring 226 points and conceding just one.
Some 25 tours and 118 years later and the 1891 squad remain the only side to win all their tour matches against any of the southern hemisphere giants, with only the 1974 tourists matching their unbeaten record.
Four Lions players featured in each and every tour fixture, with forwards RG MacMillan and J Hammond, full back WG Mitchell and centre RL Aston defying the massive amounts of travel involved in touring South Africa to feature in all 20 matches.
Aston was arguably the star of the tour, scoring in the first and third Tests to take his tour tally to a stunning 30 tries in 20 matches.
The Lions were captained by Bill Maclagan, a Scotsman with 26 international caps to his name prior to leaving for South Africa. Maclagan led the side superbly, missing only one match throughout the tour.
Incredibly, 13 of the side that faced South Africa had also played in the win over Eastern Province just two days earlier!
A total of 10 of the side that played in the first Test were or had been students at Oxford and Cambridge universities. Eight of the XV were Light Blues with Cambridge, while PR Clauss and WE Bromet represented the Dark Blues of Oxford.
As for the opposition, Herbert Hayton Castens was chosen as the first man to captain South Africa in an international. English born and educated, Castens emigrated to the Western Province area of South Africa and enjoyed a fine sporting record.
An Oxford Blue in 1886 and '87, Castens represented Middlesex and the South of England before leaving for South Africa shortly after graduating from Oxford. Castens returned to England with his new country in 1894 when he became South Africa's first touring cricket captain.
With custom dictating that the authorities at the venue where each match was played were to pick the team, it is not surprising that only five South Africans played in all three Tests against the Lions. B Duff, J Vigne, A Richards, M Versfeld and M Louw had the honour of being ever presents, although that honour was somewhat diluted by the fact that the South Africans lost all three internationals.
South Africa: B Duff (Western Province); M van Buren (Transvaal), J Vigne (Transvaal), H Boyes (Griqualand West), F Guthrie; A Richards, M Versfield; W Bisset (all Western Province), HH Castens (Western Province, captain), G Devenish (Transvaal), M Louw (Western Province), J Little (Griqualand West), J Merry, F Hamilton (both Eastern Province)
British & Irish Lions: WG Mitchell (Cambridge University and Richmond); PR Clauss (Oxford University), RL Aston (Cambridge University), WE Maclagan (London Scottish, captain), A Rotherham (Cambridge University); W Wotherspoon (Cambridge University), WE Bromet (Oxford University); JH Gould (Old Leysians), J Hammond (Cambridge University), PF Hancock (Somerset), RG MacMillan (London Scottish), CP Simpson (Cambridge University), AA Surtees (Cambridge University), R Thompson (Cambridge University), T Whittaker (Lancashire)
Referee: Dr Griffin (South Africa)
Very little is known about the match itself, apart from the eventual outcome.
Aston and Whittaker were tryscorers for the Lions, with their efforts earning the Lions a point-a-piece.
A conversion from Rotherham added a further two points as the Lions took a 4-0 lead into the half-time break.
That was the way it stayed for the remainder of the match, with the South Africans putting up a brave fight but the Lions never looking like letting their advantage slip.
WHAT THEY SAID
Paul Clauss (Lions threequarter)
Clauss described the 1891 tour as 'all champagne and travel'!
John Griffiths (author of British Lions)
"The strength of the South African game was forward power, a feature British sides were to meet on all of their subsequent visits to the Cape.
"But in 1891, South African rugby was in its infancy and the dribbling skill of the British forwards and the combination and passing of the threequarters were too effective for the hosts to contain."
The Cape Times, describing tour captain Bill Maclagan
"He has acquired the acme of perfection as a tackler, can punt with considerable ability and with either foot, and can cover the ground at a splendid pace."
THE LIONS IN PORT ELIZABETH:
The Lions have played 26 fixtures in Port Elizabeth, with the city featuring as a venue on each of the Lions' 13 visits to the Republic.
The Lions won their first 10 matches in Port Elizabeth before losing to Eastern Province in 1924, 43 years after their first trip to South Africa.
A comfortable 39-11 win over an Eastern Province Invitational XV in 1997 was followed by a 20-8 victory against the Southern Kings in May 2009 as the Lions made it six successive wins in the lead up to what proved to be a memorable Test series.
P 26 W 19 L 5 D 2
1891: Port Elizabeth 0 Lions 22
Eastern Province 0 Lions 21
South Africa 0 Lions 4
1896: Port Elizabeth 3 Lions 26
Eastern Province 0 Lions 18
South Africa 0 Lions 8
1903: Port Elizabeth 0 Lions 13
Eastern Province 0 Lions 12
1910: Eastern Province 6 Lions 14
South Africa 3 Lions 8
1924: Eastern Province 14 Lions 6
South Africa 3 Lions 3
1938: Eastern Province 5 Lions 6
South Africa 19 Lions 3
1955: Eastern Province 20 Lions 0
South Africa 22 Lions 8
1962: Eastern Province 6 Lions 21
Central Universities 6 Lions 14
1968: Eastern Province 14 Lions 23
South Africa 6 Lions 6
1974: Eastern Province 14 Lions 28
South Africa 9 Lions 26
1980: Eastern Province 16 Lions 28
South Africa 12 Lions 10
1997: Eastern Province Invitational XV 11 Lions 39
2009: Southern Kings 8 Lions 20