The Lions may have an impressive overall record against the Wallabies but they lost the first Test they played Down Under.
Having taking part in 16 games against club, provincial and representative opposition in Australia on their nine-month tour back in 1888 – not to mention 19 games of Aussie Rules Football – the Lions finally faced an Australian national side 11 years later.
For the Wallabies, it was well worth the wait as they ran out 13-3 winners in Sydney.
The result was something of a shock given the fact that the Lions had left Australia unbeaten on their first visit and had then won the opening three fixtures on their return trip.
Defeat spurred the Lions into life as far as Test-match rugby against the Aussies was concerned as they went on to win the series thanks to convincing triumphs in games two and four and a one-point win in Test number three.
The fact that the Lions didn’t lose another Test to the Wallabies until 1930 and were only on the wrong side of a result once more prior to the start of the 21st century makes this particular reverse even more remarkable.
Australia 13 BRITISH & IRISH LIONS 3
Scorers: Australia: Tries – Colton, Spragg, Evans; Cons – Spragg 2 Lions: Try – Nicholls
SETTING THE SCENE
The Lions arrived in Australia on the back of three successful southern hemisphere adventures in 1888, 1891 and 1896, with the last two tours of South Africa featuring just a single loss in 41 fixtures.
That solitary defeat came in the last game before the 1899 tour, though, as the Lions lost out to the Springboks 5-0 in the fourth Test in Cape Town to ensure they headed home with a slightly bitter taste in their mouths.
Their fourth and final trip of the 19th century was the first which saw Australia as a sole destination and the last for some 90 years. The 1888 adventure also included New Zealand, while Australia played second fiddle to its trans-Tasman neighbour on the Lions’ 1904, 1908, 1930, 1950, 1959, 1966 and 1971 tours before hosting the Lions alone in 1989.
The opening Test in Sydney might not have been the very first time the Lions had played an international but it was a Test debut as far as the Australians were concerned. Representatives from the New South Wales and Queensland Unions combined to form a national team to face the Lions but the side didn’t even have an official jersey. Instead the Aussies played in blue for the first Test before wearing maroon in Queensland a month later. Both shirts did carry the Australian coat of arms on their chest, though, even if the nickname the Wallabies remained a further nine years in the making.
The Lions were led by the Reverend Matthew Mullineux, who both captained and managed the tourists, although he nobly stood down as skipper for the final three Tests following defeat in the first.
Mullineux remains the only Lions skipper not to have represented one of the four Home Unions but he was not alone in winning a Lions cap instead of an international one. The majority of the squad hadn’t played for their respective countries, although the seven that had ensured they carried more experience than the first visit to Australia 11 years earlier.
A veteran of the 1896 tour to South Africa, Mullineux was the only squad member to have been a Lion previously. The rest of the party were all new to the Lions and none would make the next tour to South Africa four years later.
The star of the tour was Welsh international Gwyn Nicholls, an English-born three quarter viewed as one of the best backs to represent the Lions in their early years. Nicholls created plenty of scores for his team-mates on tour and claimed the solitary try in Sydney but he was powerless to prevent the Aussies over powering the Lions on this occasion.
Australia: R McCowan, C White, F Row (captain), S Spragg, W Evans, P Ward, A Gralton, W Tanner, J Carson, W Davis, H Marks, P Carew, C Ellis, A Colton, A Kelly
Lions: E Martelli (Dublin University), AM Bucher (Edinburgh Academicals and Scotland), EG Nicholls (Cardiff and Wales), CY Adamson (Durham), GP Doran (Landsdowne and Ireland), G Cookson (Manchester), MM Mullineux (Blackheath, captain), FM Stout (Gloucester and England), TMW McGown (North of Ireland and Ireland), JW Jarman (Bristol), JS Francombe (Manchester), HGS Gray (Scottish trialist), FC Belson (Bath), A Ayre-Smith (Guy’s Hospital), GR Gibson (Northern and England)
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