The first Test with the Wallabies in 1959 might not be one of the most talked about in Lions history but it still makes pleasant reading for Britain and Ireland’s elite.
Defeat in three of their four Tests with New Zealand on the major part of the Lions’ second post-war adventure means that the convincing wins over their Australian counterparts in the earlier two-match series are often overlooked. It’s an unsurprising attitude given that facing the All Blacks was a far tougher challenge than taking on the Wallabies but it does fail to do this particular pride of Lions justice.
The first of the two comfortable victories in OZ came courtesy of a 17-6 scoreline in Brisbane, with the Lions outscoring their hosts by two tries to nil and setting the platform for the adventurous attacking rugby that would define their 31-match adventure.
Having made light work of the Wallabies, the Lions went on to register their biggest ever points total on tour, amassing 842 of them to set a record that only the Invincibles of 1974 have come close to matching. They outscored the All Blacks by four tries to nil in the first Test after leaving Australia and by three tries to nil in the fourth encounter in mid September.
The class of ’59 left an indelible impression on their southern hemisphere hosts with a sensational brand of rugby that saw the ball moved wide and kept alive whenever possible. And while the result of the first of six internationals on that tour might have been forgotten by all but the most ardent fans, the style of play engineered in Australia will live long in the memory of those lucky enough to have watched it first hand.
The Wallabies certainly weren’t the force they are today but the nature of the victory and the impact it had on the rest of the tour reminds us that it represented more than just a mere tick in the win column. Had the Lions fallen at the first hurdle against the weaker of their two Test opponents, they may well have gone into their shells for the remainder of the tour and the world would have been robbed of some of the most intuitive rugby ever played by a team from these isles.
AUSTRALIA 6 BRITISH & IRISH LIONS 17
Scorers: Australia: Pens – Donald 2; Lions: Tries – O’Reilly, Smith; Con – Risman; Pens – Hewitt 2
SETTING THE SCENE
The Lions arrived in Brisbane with a mixed record on their short tour of Australia. Having put 50 points on Victoria in their opening fixture, the tourists slipped to an 18-14 defeat to New South Wales a week later.
Captain Ronnie Dawson’s men bounced back with a comfortable win over Queensland four days prior to the first international but the early setback ensured they entered the Test series without the sense of complacency that may otherwise have accompanied them given their historical stranglehold over the Wallabies.
Britain and Ireland’s elite had easily won the last Test series in Australia, recording 19-6 and 24-3 victories in a series that was pretty much mirrored by this one. The Wallabies had tasted glory in just two of the 10 previous fixtures between the sides and one of those had been in the very first match up way back in 1899.
The form of the host nation since the Lions were last seen Down Under in 1950 also suggested the tourists wouldn’t have too much difficulty continuing their dominance, with the Wallabies having won only seven times in 31 attempts in between the visits of the ‘50 and ‘59 Lions.
Australia’s record in the year preceding this particular tour made for even more frustrating reading with the Green and Gold winning just twice in 11 games and being whitewashed on their tour of the Home Nations, while the two previous seasons hadn’t seen a single Wallaby win.
The side named for the first Test was almost as even a representation of all four Home Unions as one could hope for. So often one nation is under represented in a Lions Test team but for the opening rubber in ’59 the nature of the chosen XV kept each of the constituent countries happy.
Ireland had provided the highest number of players in the overall touring party and they did so again in the Test team, with skipper Dawson being joined by four of his countrymen. England were the next best represented as four of their nine tourists took part in Brisbane, while Scotland and Wales contributed three players apiece from their respective tour contingents of five and nine.
Ronnie Dawson (r) was joined by fellow Irishman Syd Millar in the front row
Just six players in the tour party had been on the previous Lions adventure to South Africa but four of them started in the Test side. Ireland wing Tony O’Reilly, England scrum-half Dickie Jeeps, Scotland prop Hugh McLeod and Wales lock Rhys Williams all added their Lions experience, although the only squad member to have toured Australia with the Lions in 1950, Malcolm Thomas, didn’t make the Test team. O’Reilly, Jeeps and Williams had played in all four of the Tests against the Springboks in ’55 but McLeod joined the 11 others winning their first caps in Lions colours just four games into the lengthy tour.
The Lions greatest strength in 1959 was way out wide where they selected two of the deadliest finishers ever to wear the famous red jersey. O’Reilly and fellow wing Peter Jackson scored a combined total of 41 tries on tour, with O’Reilly bagging 22 and Jackson following not far behind with 19. Their presence was a constant threat to the Australian and later New Zealand teams and they were well fed by centres David Hewiit and Malcolm Price and half backs Bev Risman and Jeeps.
Both Hewitt and Jeeps would go on to win more Test caps on the 1962 tour of South Africa, while Price and Risman made lasting impressions on their solitary Lions adventures as the Lions favoured the kind of attacking philosophy that still sees them remembered fondly to this very day.
Ken Scotland was another who deserves great credit for the positive mindset embraced by the tourists. Arguably the pioneer of the art of attacking from deep, Scotland paved the way for the likes of Andy Irvine and JPR Williams to flourish in future years as he made the No15 role far more than just a defensive one. Scotland saw off the more solid and dependable but less enterprising Terry Davies for the Test shirt in Brisbane. He went on to be voted the Lion ‘most likely to win a match for his side’ by the New Zealand Rugby Almanac thanks to his counter attacking abilities and substantial kicking skills.
Up front the Lions were less celebrated but they did what was required of them as they provided the quick ball their backline thrived upon. Dawson was joined in the front row by future Lions legend Syd Millar, a man who would make more than 40 appearances across four tours and taste series glory as coach of the 1974 Invincibles. McLeod was chosen as the other prop having developed into an impressive all-round performer following his previous tour as a hard-working dirt tracker.
Williams was always the heavy favourite for the first of the second row berths, with Irishman Bill Mulcahy chosen as his partner. Mulcahy would have to wait until the very last international of the tour to win his second cap, however, as he was overlooked for the second clash with the Wallabies and the first three matches against the All Blacks.
The back row was a cosmopolitan affair with an Englishman, a Welshman and a Scotsman all making their Lions Test debuts. Flankers Alan Ashcroft and John Faull joined up with future IRB chairman Ken Smith but it would be the only time the trio would play together in a Test match. Skipper Dawson, tour manager AW Wilson and assistant OB Glasgow chopped and changed the back row for the two Tests in Oz and the four in New Zealand, never naming the same trio in any of the six internationals.
Australia: J Lenehan; A Morton, L Potts, L Diett, K Donald; A Summons, D Connor; K Ellis, P Johnson, P Dunn, A Miller, J Carroll, J Thornett, R Outerside, P Fenwicke (c)
British & Irish Lions: Ken Scotland (Cambridge University/Scotland); Peter Jackson (Coventry/England), David Hewitt (Queen’s University Belfast/Ireland), Malcolm Price (Pontypool/Wales), Tony O’Reilly (Old Belvedere/Ireland); Bev Risman (Manchester/England), Dickie Jeeps (Northampton/England); Hugh McLeod (Hawick/Scotland), Ronnie Dawson (c) (Wanderers/Ireland), Syd Millar (Ballymena/Ireland), Bill Mulcahy (UCD/Ireland), Rhys Williams (Llanelli/Wales), Alan Ashcroft (Waterloo/England), John Faull (Swansea/Wales), Ken Smith (Kelso/Scotand)
Referee: B O’Callaghan (Australia)
With the game tied at 6 points apiece at half-time, the Australians harboured realistic hopes of a first win over the Lions in 29 years.
The hosts had been high on confidence due to the fact that 12 of the squad had already beaten the Lions with New South Wales and that confidence was still apparent at the break.
Medical student Ken Donald had kicked two first-half penalties but any hopes of a home win evaporated after the interval as O’Reilly and Smith both crossed the Wallaby line.
Ireland wing Tony O'Reilly was one of two Lions try scorers in Brisbane
In the end the result was a comfortable one for Dawson and co as they managed to keep their try line in tact while looking to develop their expansive style of play.
A brace of penalties from Hewitt and a drop goal and conversion from Risman ensured the Lions got off to a winning start on the Test scene when defeat would have made a long, long tour even longer.
And while the margin of victory was someway short of the record-breaking 31-0 thrashing that would follow in the same city seven years later, a 17-6 success was only just shy of matching the 19-6 win when the two teams had last met in Brisbane back in 1950.
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. It was to be the only blemish on an otherwise unbeaten adventure.
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 will host two fixtures on the Lions’ next visit to Australia in 2013, with a clash with the Reds followed by the first Test.
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