The Lions’ 40-point hammering of the Queensland Reds in Brisbane sent out a clear message to the Wallabies ahead of the three-match series in 2001.
Graham Henry’s men went into the third tour fixture with two huge wins under their belt but those triumphs had come against below-par opposition and had therefore been dismissed as irrelevant by large sections of the Australia media.
But even those critics looking to keep knocking the Lions were forced to sit up and take notice after the tourists dismantled one of the southern hemisphere’s top club sides.
A five-try thrashing and an outstanding first-half performance showed the kind of rugby this particular pride of Lions were capable of just a fortnight out from their stunning first-Test success in the same city.
Queensland Reds 8 BRITISH & IRISH LIONS 42
Scorers: Queensland Reds: Try – Cordingley; Pen – Flatley; Lions: Tries – James, O’Driscoll, Henderson, Luger, Hill; Cons – Wilkinson 4; Pens – Wilkinson 3
SETTING THE SCENE
The Lions headed to Brisbane from Townsville, a venue in the same state as their destination yet some 830 miles south. And while the opponents in their second and third fixtures may both have featured Queensland in their name, distance wasn’t the only big difference between the President’s XV and the Reds.
Whereas the victims of an 83-6 mauling earlier in the week had been predominantly made up of club-grade players, the Reds were packed with international quality. The presence of numerous Wallabies and the fact that the Queenslanders had reached the semi-finals of that year’s Super 12 and had topped the regular table the previous season, suggested the Lions’ would face a stern test of their credentials at Ballymore.
The game was talked up as the first real examination of Britain and Ireland’s elite, one that would give us a far better idea of just what the latest Lions could achieve Down Under. The Lions had proved in their opening two matches that they could pile on the points against weak opposition but their good work early on in the tour would be undermined if they failed to overcome this particular challenge.
The Reds were expected to pose a real threat to the Lions' unbeaten record
The side that started against the Reds would be almost identical to the one that returned to Brisbaneto face the world champion Wallabies on June 30. Only three of the starting XV weren’t named in the team for the first Test and two of those were as a result of injury.
Left wing Dan Luger would see his tour ended by a fractured cheekbone days after this victory, while openside flanker Neil Back would miss the opening rubber but return in time for Tests two and three. Full back Iain Balshaw was the only member of this starting side that lost out on form alone as he had to settle for a place on the bench behind Bath and England team-mate Matt Perry.
Squad captain Martin Johnson made his first appearance of the tour after recovering from injury, as did fly-half Jonny Wilkinson. The England pair were at opposite ends of the scale when it came to Lions experience, with Johnson leading his second party on his third tour while Wilkinson was preparing to wear the famous red jersey for the very first time.
Johnson, who had been the central figure in the series success against the Springboks in 1997, had endured a long but rewarding season after leading Leicester to a domestic and European double, while Wilkinson was been lined up as a Lions Test star despite having only just turned 21. The Newcastle playmaker was the favourite to beat Neil Jenkins and Ronan O’Gara to the No10 shirt but his preparations had been hampered by the fact that he was carrying a neck injury when the tour party was announced back in late April.
Lions captain Martin Johnson made his first appearance of the tour
Henry made a total of 11 changes from the previous win over the President’s XV, with only Daffyd James, Rob Henderson, Tom Smith and Martin Corry retaining their places. Both James and Henderson began the tour as likely mid-weekers but their early form ensured they both played a key part in all three Tests. Henderson had crossed for a hat-trick of tries in his first start for the Lions and would again get on the scoresheet in this fixture, while James had already moved above Ben Cohen in the pecking order for a wing berth even before Luger’s untimely departure.
Having only arrived in Oz the day before the win in Townsville, Corry was asked to play his second match in four days after being called up to the squad to replace the injured Simon Taylor. Corry had been considered unlucky to miss out on original selection but he made up for the initial disappointment with a second successive big performance as he edged towards a Test spot.
As for Smith, the fourth player to back up from the previous Tuesday’s match, the Scotland prop may have been small in stature but he carried an impressive reputation following a series of sterling displays in South Africa four years earlier. Smith had been one of the rocks upon which the Lions’ foundations had been built in ’97 and he was expected to play a similar role in Australia.
Smith was joined in the front row by fellow veteran of ’97 Keith Wood and Lions newcomer Phil Vickery. Wood had proved an inspirational figure on his first Lions adventure and was all but certain to start the Test series against the Wallabies. Vickery’s inclusion wasn’t so clear cut, however, with legendary Lions Jason Leonard and Dai Young both included in Henry’s squad. At just 24, Vickery was by far the youngest prop on tour yet he would go on to start all three internationals in what was a real breakthrough trip for the Cornishman.
Danny Grewcock joined Johnson in the second row, with the England duo also lining up alongside each other in each of the Tests. Grewcock had been seen by many as the last of the five locks on tour prior to departure but he would overcome the challenge of Jeremy Davidson, Scott Murray and Malcolm O’Kelly for a spot next to the skipper in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney.
As for the back row, Henry opted for a further three Englishmen, all of whom would feature in the Test series despite Back’s absence for the first Test. Corry would prove to one of the major success stories of the tour; Back would bounce back from his injury; while Richard Hill’s enforced absence for the second half of the second Test and all of the third was one of the deciding factors in the Lions’ defeat.
Outside of the pack, Wilkinson was joined at halfback by Welshman Rob Howley who was desperate to make up for the disappointment of missing the Test series in ’97 through a shoulder injury, while Ireland’s Brian O’Driscoll was picked at centre for the first time having being named at full back against Western Australia.
Rob Henderson started alongside Brian O'Driscoll in the centres
For the Reds, the absence of a trio of stars dominated the team news, with John Eales, Ben Tune and Chris Latham left out.
Wallaby skipper Eales would have to wait a further fortnight to do battle with opposite number Johnson, while Latham would also feature in the Test series, starting the opening rubber, coming on as a replacement in the second and warming the bench for the full 80 minutes in the third.
The duo had been keen to face the Lions for their franchise as well as their country but respective Achilles and shoulder worries ensured Wallaby boss Rod Macqueen asked for them not to be risked with the series just a fortnight down the line.
For Tune, injury also prevented him from taking on the tourists, although for him it was a case of not being fit to play rather than Macqueen being worried that he might aggravate a niggle. Having been one of the stars of the Wallabies’ 1999 World Cup winning side for whom he scored a try in the famous final win over France in Cardiff, Tune had been expected to play a major role in Australia’s efforts to add the tag of Lions’ conquerors to their global crown.
Tune, who would later be named in the Wallaby team of decade for the first 10 years of the 21st century, could boast a record of 22 tries in 39 Tests before the Lions arrived Down Under but he hadn’t featured on the international stage all season due to a serious shoulder problem. The 24-year-old wing had hoped to boost his chances of a Wallaby recall with a fine performance against the Lions’ Saturday side but he was robbed of that opportunity as his shoulder failed to recover as quickly as first anticipated.
With Tune and Latham both unavailable, the Reds filled their back three with rookies, with the assistant groundsman at Ballymore, Michael Tabrett, starting at full back. Junior Pelesafa, a centre by trade and just 20 years of age, was named on the right wing, while David McCallum filled the left wing berth four days after conceding five tries to Jason Robinson while on duty for his state’s President’s XV.
But despite missing three of their biggest names and appearing to be stretched for resources out wide, the Reds could still count on a vast number of Wallabies in their starting XV.
Daniel Herbert, Elton Flatley, Nick Stiles, Michael Foley, Glenn Panoho, Matt Cockbain and Toutai Kefu all played their part in the series against the Lions, with Herbert, Kefu and Stiles starting all three Tests. Panoho was the only one of the above not to play some part in every international, with Cockbain the only one not to start at least one of the Tests.
Toutai Kefu and Elton Flatley (No10) featured for both the Reds and Wallabies
Herbert’s mark on this particular one might not have been a massive one but his contribution to the Wallabies’ success in the final Test a month later was crucial. The outside centre, who captained the Reds in Eales’ absence, scored a brace of tries in the third Test as the hosts clinched the series with a 29-23 victory in Sydney.
As well as those seven men who made it into the Australian squad to face the Lions, the Reds had a further seven squad members who wore the Green and Gold at some point in their careers.
Back row David Croft won five caps and was part of the Wallaby squad that reached the World Cup final in 2003, while lock forward Mark Connors picked up a World Cup winners medal and 20 caps before departing for Northampton in 2002.
Scrum-half Sam Cordingley, who enjoyed a stint with Swansea, earned 14 caps despite the huge presence of the legendary George Gregan; Steve Kefu made his Australian debut four months after the tour and went on to play for French side Castres and London Wasps; and replacements John Roe and Sean Hardman won caps in the back row and at hooker, with Roe making 19 appearances and appearing at the 2003 World Cup.
Nathan Sharpe would go on to enjoy the most outstanding international career of all the 14 internationals on show for the Reds, with the future Western Force and Wallaby skipper remaining a Test star a decade after the Lions left Australian shores. Sharpe broke the all-time record for Super Rugby appearances in March 2011 and is currently the most-capped lock in Wallaby history.
Other notable figures in the Reds’ 22 included replacement prop Simon Kerr who later played for Munster and fellow substitute Andrew Scotney who has since coached in Italy with both Viadana and Aironi.
Queensland Reds: Michael Tabrett, Junior Pelesafa, Daniel Herbert (c), Steve Kefu, David McCallum; Elton Flatley, Sam Cordingley; Nick Stiles, Michael Foley, Glenn Panoho, Nathan Sharpe, Mark Connors, Matt Cockbain, Toutai Kefu, David Croft
Replacements: Jason Ramsamy, Andrew Scotney, Ben Wakely, Simon Kerr, Sean Hardman, John Roe, Mike Mitchell
British & Irish Lions: Iain Balshaw (Bath/England); Daffyd James (Bridgend/Wales), Brian O’Driscoll (Leinster/Ireland), Rob Henderson (Wasps/Ireland), Dan Luger (Saracens/England); Jonny Wilkinson (Newcastle/England), Rob Howley (Cardiff/Wales); Tom Smith (Brive/Scotland), Keith Wood (Harlequins/Ireland), Phil Vickery (Gloucester/England), Martin Johnson (Leicester/England) (c), Danny Grewcock (Saracens/Scotland), Richard Hill (Saracens/England), Neil Back (Leicester/England), Martin Corry (Leicester/England)
Replacements: Jason Leonard (Harlequins/England), Gordon Bulloch (Glasgow/Scotland), Scott Murray (Saracens/Scotland), Colin Charvis (Swansea/Wales), Matt Dawson (Northampton/England), Austin Healey(Leicester/England), Jason Robinson (Sale/England)
Referee: Stuart Dickinson (Australia)
In stark contrast to their previous outing in which they led just 10-6 at half-time before thumping a President’s XV 83-6, the Lions began this particular battle in fine form.
A total of four first-half tries put the game to bed before the break as Henry’s troops made it three wins from three in superb style.
The Reds went in front courtesy of a ninth-minute penalty from Flatley but the remainder of the half belonged well and truly to the Lions.
Luger was the first to cross the Reds’ line with 13 minutes on the clock, with the Saracens and England wing collecting Wilkinson’s clever cross-field kick to canter home unopposed. Unfortunately for Luger, it was to be his fourth and final score for the Lions as his tour came to a premature end in training prior to the clash with Australia A.
Dan Luger scored on his final game for the Lions
Fresh from his own hat-trick of tries last time out, Henderson then added a second score for the Lions before James opened his Lions account to put the tourists three scores ahead. James would go on to score in each of his next two matches, including the historic first Test win over the Wallabies.
Hill was the next to claim a try for the Lions as Wilkinson’s delightful switch opened up the way to the line for the man who had played such a key role in the Lions’ triumph over the Springboks last time out.
With Wilkinson converting three of the four tries and adding three first-half penalties, there was no doubt that the Lions would leave the Sunshine State with an unbeaten record. The question wasn’t whether the Lions would win; it was by how many.
And when O’Driscoll cruised through the Reds’ defence for a sublime solo score just moments after the restart, it looked as though the floodgates might open at Ballymore.
O'Driscoll gave an early pointer to his potential ahead of the Test series
Credit to the Reds, though, as they never gave up despite their chances of success having already fallen by the wayside. The home side continued to pressure the Lions, who took their foot off the gas knowing their job was already done.
As a result, the second period didn’t match the first for intensity or execution but the Lions’ own line was rarely in danger. A solitary score from scrum-half Cordingley was the only blemish on the Lions’ copybook as Dawson saw his attempted clearance charged down by his opposite number midway through the half.
The Reds enjoyed their best period of possession shortly after the game’s final try but the Lions finished strongly despite not adding to the handful of tries they had racked up in the first 42 minutes.
WHAT THEY SAID
Martin Johnson (Lions captain)
"They were missing a few strike players but they’re a good team and they’ve played together a lot more than us. They didn’t really beat us in being cohesive – we looked like we’d played a few more games – so we can be quite happy with that.
"I enjoyed it, I enjoyed the pace and I think we can play a little bit faster. We expected it to be quick and it was fairly fast but I think we can up the tempo a little bit and we’ll have to for the Test matches.
"It was a good performance, our defence was strong and the guys looked fresh. In the second half we lost a little bit of shape and that made it hard for us…we just need to work on holding on to the ball in attack.
"We had the bounce of the ball in the first half for sure, so we can’t be too cocky with it – I think the scoreline flattered us a bit.We took our foot off the pedal and eased off when we should have gone for the jugular.
"Some things weren’t satisfactory and some things were maybe a little bit ahead of where we thought we’d be. We’re doing okay but the key is not to get carried away with this."
Johnson was glad to be back in the thick of things at Ballymore
Daniel Herbert (Reds captain who also played in the Test series)
"We gave them a little bit more of a run than what they’ve had so far, particularly in the second half. The first half was disappointing from our point of view but they played some great football out there.
"Having guys like (John) Eales, (Ben) Tune and (Chris) Latham out for the game didn’t help but there was no excuse for some of the mistakes we made in that first half. They made us pay for every one of those mistakes and they performed extremely well.
"The breakdown was a major issue for us. It was something we considered a strength throughout our Super 12 season but they certainly taught us a lesson in that respect. We knew they had a lot of pace out wide and a very good mauling game and I think they also showed a few other areas that they’re very strong in.
"It’ll do their confidence a lot of good, I’m sure. In the first two games on tour they weren’t really tested but there were no signs of complacency out there. They’ve certainly stepped up a cog in their preparation for the first Test and it’s all coming together very well for them."
Jonny Wilkinson (Lions fly-half and debutant)
"It was a good job but we’ve got lots to look at. Things worked well for some parts but not for others.
"I’m pleased to get on the park because this is the Lions – it’s got nothing do to with whether I’ve been playing – the injury is a bit of an afterthought. There was a lot of pressure on this game and there were a lot of nerves for myself. It’s just good to be able to say that I’ve been out there and played for the Lions.
"There were no ill effects from the injury. I’m tired because Queensland are a great team and they play a fast game but that’s too be expected out here in Australia."
Jonny Wilkinson kicked 17 points on his Lions debut
The Lions in Brisbane:
The Lions have played in Brisbane on 25 occasions, losing just once.
That single defeat came in 1971 when the Lions lost to Queensland in the first of just two games in Australia prior to their tour of New Zealand – a tour that also featured a first and only series win against the All Blacks.
Of the 25 matches, seven have been Tests, with the Lions winning each and every one. The 31-0 hammering of the Wallabies in 1966 remains the pinnacle of the Lions’ visits to the city in scoring terms but it has been matched in significance on two other occasions.
As well as hosting the ‘Battle of Ballymore’ when the Lions stood firm to level the series in 1989, Brisbane was home to one of the most famous Lions victories in history – the stunning 29-13 win over the Wallabies in 2001.
Brisbane looks set to host at least one fixture on the Lions’ next visit to Australia in 2013, with a clash with the Reds likely to be followed by one of the three scheduled Tests.
P 25 W 24 L 1
1888: Queensland 6 Lions 13
Queensland Juniors 3 Lions 11
Queensland 0 Lions 7
1899: Queensland 3 Lions 11
Australia 0 Lions 11
1904: Queensland 5 Lions 24
Brisbane 3 Lions 17
Queensland 7 Lions 18
Australia 3 Lions 17
1908: Queensland 3 Anglo-Welsh 20
Queensland 8 Anglo-Welsh 11
Brisbane 3 Anglo-Welsh 26
1930: Queensland 16 Lions 26
Australian XV 14 Lions 29
1950: Australia 6 Lions 19
1959: Queensland 11 Lions 39
Australia 6 Lions 17
1966: Queensland 3 Lions 26
Australia 0 Lions 31
1971: Queensland 15 Lions 11
1989: Queensland 15 Lions 19
Australia 12 Lions 19
Anzac XV 15 Lions 19
2001: Queensland 8 Lions 42
Australia 13 Lions 29