The Lions’ convincing victory over New South Wales back on June 2, 1888 is significant for one simple reason – it marked their first encounter on Australian soil.
The inaugural Lions tour was already 12 weeks old by the time the pioneers took on Australian opposition, with seven weeks spent in transit and a further five in New Zealand.
Travelling with only 21 players and with one of those banned from participating after being classed as a professional by the RFU for accepting £15 in expenses from the tour management, the Lions had already played nine games and visited both the North and South Islands of New Zealand before arriving in Sydney.
The Lions would go on to play a total of 16 games in Australia, and 35 in total, although that figure doesn’t include the numerous Australian Rules matches the tourists also took part in during their nine-month tour.
Victory over their first Aussie opponents was one of 14 across 13 weeks in the country, with two draws ensuring they returned to New Zealand for their final 10 games with an unbeaten record in Australia.
New South Wales 2 BRITISH & IRISH LIONS 18
Scorers: New South Wales: Try – Hale; Lions: Tries – Bumby 3, Eagles, Seddon, Stoddart; Cons – Paul, Anderton
SETTING THE SCENE
Whereas many of the class of 2013 will have a decent idea of what a Lions tour entails, those involved in 1888 were almost completely clueless. The squad that agreed to head south in early March for a marathon adventure really were jumping into the unknown. There were no previous examples of similar rugby tours to fall back on and everything that happened Down Under was entirely new as far as the sport was concerned.
Cricket had been the initial inspiration for what critics believed was a far-fetched idea that would never catch on. Sporting entrepreneurs Alfred Shaw and Arthur Shrewsbury had already successfully exported an English cricket side to tour Australia and thankfully rugby, rather than association football or any other of rugby’s sporting rivals, was next on their agenda.
The first Lions tour certainly wasn’t truly representative in the same way that modern-day tours have become, but it did feature players from all four Home Unions. The vast majority of the tour party were from England but there were some notable exceptions.
WH Thomas was the first Welshman to tour Australia and New Zealand; Angus Stuart was of Scottish descent; H Brooks and DJ Smith both attended Edinburgh University; the Burnett brothers played for Hawick; Arthur Paul was the only Irish-born member of the party and AP Penketh was from the Isle of Man.
Unlike the three most recent Lions tours when every single member of the squad already had international honours, only four members of the 1888 touring party had been capped by their countries before playing for the Lions.
Despite the inexperience of the squad and the incredibly intensive schedule, the tour was a huge success on the field. The Lions won a total of 27 games across the two countries and their achievements whetted the appetite for a return visit in future years.
The Lions even won six of the 19 or so Aussie Rules fixtures they took part in but things weren’t quite so straightforward off the field. Tour captain Bob Seddon of Swinton and Lancashire drowned while sculling on the Hunter River after a game at Maitland, New South Wales, on August 13. Seddon reportedly got his feet stuck in his strappings after capsizing as the squad enjoyed a well-earned day off with 15 official games still left to play.
The tour continued with Andrew Stoddart, also an England cricket captain, taking over the helm and the Lions responded superbly by winning 12 and drawing three of the remaining ties.
New South Wales: H Braddon; CG Wade, J Moulton, H Bayliss; E Cameron, P Colquhoun; C Tange (captain), J Shaw, H Lee, L Neil, W Belbridge, A Hale, L Wade, E Rice, J Gee
Lions: Arthur Paul (Lancashire and Swinton);Tommy Haslam (Yorkshire and Batley), Andrew Stoddart (England – no club as already in Australia with the England cricket team), William Burnett (Roxburgh County and Hawick), Walter Bumby (Lancashire and Swinton), Jack Anderton (Lancashire and Salford); Robert Seddon (Lancashire and Swinton) (captain), Charles Mathers (Yorkshire and Bramley), Harry Eagles (Lancashire and Swinton), Alf Penketh (Douglas and Isle of Man), Robert Burnett (Roxburgh County and Hawick), Tom Kent (Lancashire and Salford), Angus Stuart (Yorkshire and Dewsbury), Sam Williams (Lancashire and Salford), William Thomas (Cambridge University and Wales)
The Lions were never in trouble in Sydney as they recorded the biggest win of the tour up to that point. Only the 28-3 thrashing of an Adelaide XV a month-and-a-half later would surpass the 16-point winning margin in the Aussie opener.
The visitors outscored their hosts by six tries to one as they bounced back from a 4-0 defeat to Auckland in their previous outing in New Zealand.
The game was played under Australia’s Southern Union scoring system – one of four different systems the Lions encountered on tour. Two points were awarded for a try, three for a conversion and four for a drop goal.
Half the Lions’ tries were scored by Walter Bumby, a halfback from the same club and county as tragic skipper Seddon. Bumby’s hat-trick was the second by a Lion, following fellow halfback J Nolan’s efforts in a 4-0 win over Canterbury in early May.
Seddon scored his penultimate try before his untimely death, while his replacement as tour leader, Stoddart, also crossed the New South Wales line. Harry Eagles, a forward who played in every single one of the 35 games was the other try scorer as the Lions started life in Oz with a bang.
The Lions in Sydney:
The Lions have played 40 games in Sydney at an average of more than 3.6 on each tour. One of the world’s most-talked about cities has featured in every single one of the Lions’ 11 tours to Australia and hosted an incredible 20 matches across the first three of those adventures.
A total of 12 of the 40 fixtures have been Tests, with the Lions triumphing on eight occasions for a 66 per cent win rate.
It’s the Wallabies who have enjoyed the first and the last laugh, though, thanks to victory in the first-ever Test in Sydney in 1899 and the most-recent encounter in 2001.
The picturesque city will feature twice on the Lions agenda in 2013, with the Waratahs waiting on June 15 before the third and final Test takes place at the Allianz Stadium on July 6.
P 40 W 30 D 2 L 8
1888: New South Wales 2 Lions 18
New South Wales 6 Lions 18
Sydney Juniors 0 Lions 11
New South Wales 2 Lions 16
Sydney Grammar School 2 Lions 2
University of Sydney 4 Lions 8
1899: New South Wales 3 Lions 4
Metropolitan 5 Lions 8
Australia 13 Lions 3
New South Wales 5 Lions 11
Metropolitan 8 Lions 5
Australia 10 Lions 11
Australia 0 Lions 13
Combined Public Schools 3 Lions 21
1904: New South Wales 0 Lions 27
New South Wales 6 Lions 29
Metropolitan 6 Lions 19
Australia 0 Lions 17
Australia 0 Lions 16
New South Wales 0 Lions 5
1908: New South Wales 0 Lions 3
New South Wales 0 Lions 8
Metropolitan 13 Lions 16
New South Wales 6 Lions 3
1930: New South Wales 10 Lions 29
Australia 6 Lions 5
New South Wales 28 Lions 3
1950: New South Wales 6 Lions 22
Australia 3 Lions 24
Metropolitan 17 Lions 26
1959: New South Wales 18 Lions 14
Australia 3 Lions 24
1966: New South Wales 6 Lions 6
Australia 8 Lions 11
1971:New South Wales 12 Lions 14
1989: New South Wales 21 Lions 23
Australia 30 Lions 12
Australia 18 Lions 19
2001: New South Wales 24 Lions 41
Australia 29 Lions 23