With this week marking 100 days until the Lions’ opening match in Australia, we take a look back at the last time Britain and Ireland’s elite played in Perth.
The Western Force are likely to provide stiff opposition at Patersons Stadium on June 5 but the fourth Australian franchise hadn’t even been formed when the Lions were last in Oz.
Instead, Graham Henry’s tourists faced much weaker opposition in the form of Western Australia and the result was a foregone conclusion from the outset, with the opening match of the 2001 tour setting a host of records that are unlikely to be broken.
The first tourists of the 21st century registered a 116-10 victory as they claimed the biggest-ever triumph in Lions history. And if the scoreline itself wasn’t enough to make this match one to remember, three other records fell in some style at The WACA.
A total of 18 tries is the most ever scored by the Lions; Ronan O’Gara’s 13 conversions remains an individual and team record; and the 106-point margin of victory is yet to be surpassed.
And while this comprehensive win wasn’t followed by series success, the fact that tours are getting shorter and the opposition are getting stronger means it is always likely to remain the answer to a trio of Lions trivia questions.
WESTERN AUSTRALIA 10 BRITISH & IRISH LIONS 116
Scorers: Western Australia: Tries – Becroft, Barugh; Lions: Tries – Quinnell 3, Luger 3, Howley 2, Back 2, Balshaw 2, Greenwood, M Taylor, Grewcock, S Taylor, Healey, O’Driscoll; Cons – O’Gara 13
SETTING THE SCENE
The Lions arrived in Perth with opinions already divided as to what to expect from the latest pride to leave our shores.
The selection of New Zealander Graham Henry as the first foreign coach of the Lions courted plenty of controversy, while the number of players from his Welsh side also raised a few eyebrows. And with 18 Englishmen and just three Scots in the original tour party, there was also talk of an imbalance within the squad even before the first ball had been kicked.
But while critics still suggested the Lions had no place in the modern, professional game, there was plenty of enthusiasm surrounding just the third tour to feature Australia as a sole destination. The famous series win in South Africa four years earlier had given the Lions fresh impetus, while the fact that the Wallabies had claimed World Cup glory on British soil in 1999 made the challenge even more exciting.
The tour was scheduled to last just 10 games and five weeks, making it the shortest in Lions history. And with just 22 days between the tour opener and the first Test, much was made of the need to hit the ground running.
Little was expected of the opposition in the first two matches, with Western Australia and a Queensland President's XV never having a realistic chance of upsetting the odds. Instead, the initial stages of the tour would be all about the Lions; how quickly they would gel; what combinations would excel; and what type of game plan they would favour.
Graham Henry sprung a major surprise with the very first name on the teamsheet when he selected Brian O’Driscoll at full back.
The now legendary Irishman had been in sensational form since making his international debut against the Wallabies in Brisbane in 1999, with players, press and public alike tipping the 22-year-old to be a world star.
But while O’Driscoll’s talents were clear, his ability to stand up to the world champions on their own soil and on the biggest stage of all was still in question. BOD gave an unequivocal answer to that question in the first Test in Brisbane but for the opening match of the tour Henry decided to give the future Lions skipper a gentler introduction.
O’Driscoll was handed the No15 shirt ahead of Bath and England duo Iain Balshaw and Matt Perry – a shirt he hadn’t worn since school – as his coach looked to give him a vast expanse of open space to exploit.
Brian O'Driscoll was a surprise selection at full back
English wings Dan Luger and Ben Cohen joined O’Driscoll in an attack-orientated back three, although neither would feature in the Test team later in the tour. Luger’s absence from the Test series would be unfortunate as a broken cheek bone prematurely ended his involvement but Cohen was simply deemed not good enough after he failed to make the most of his early chances despite being a pre-tour favourite for a starting spot.
With O’Driscoll chosen at the back, the midfield combination featured a Welshman and an Englishman in Swansea’s Mark Taylor and Harlequins’ Will Greenwood. Taylor had pipped fellow Swansea star and Lions hero Scott Gibbs to a squad spot as his club-mate became the most high-profile tour exclusion, while Greenwood travelled Down Under following an eventful but nearly tragic Lions adventure four years earlier.
The only uncapped Lion in 1997, and still the most recent following the selection of fully-capped squads in 2001, 2005 and 2009, Greenwood was an impressive performer in the early stages in South Africa. Although he was unlikely to surpass Gibbs and Jerry Guscott for a Test place, the opportunity to press his claims one last time was taken away from him when his tour came to the most horrific of conclusions as he swallowed his tongue in the final game before the start of the series.
Will Greenwood was in superb form on the night
Another injury victim from ’97 was given the early nod at scrum-half, with a Lions newby chosen outside him at No10. Rob Howley had been on course for a starting spot in the Test side last time out but a broken collarbone led to a devastating departure prior to the opening rubber in Cape Town. Four years later, Howley was back with the Lions and, despite the heroics of Matt Dawson who replaced him in South Africa, was a strong favourite to be the tour’s first-choice at No9.
O’Gara’s record-breaking exploits came in his very first game for the Lions having been selected ahead of 1997 veteran Neil Jenkins and rising global star Jonny Wilkinson. The Munsterman has since gone on to play a part in three full tours, although the remainder of his Lions career has struggled to hit the heights of that opening salvo.
In the pack, Henry opted for a mix of youth and experience with ’97 veterans Keith Wood, Richard Hill, Neil Back and Scott Quinnell joined by Lions debutants Darren Morris, Phil Vickery, Danny Grewcock and Malcolm O’Kelly.
Whereas only two of the backline would feature in the three-match Test series later in the tour, six of the starting forwards would play some part in the internationals.
Vickery, Wood, Grewcock, Hill and Quinnell were all selected for the opening rubber three weeks later, while Back would have been an automatic selection if fit. The Leicester openside did return to action for the second and third Tests, while Morris came on as a replacement in the heart-breaking defeat to the Wallabies in the final game of the tour.
Western Australia: S Apaapa; M Gardiner, A Broughton, H Waldin, B Becroft; T Feather, M Fleet; T Stevens, C Duff, A New, N Hollis, T Thomas (c), H Grace, R Coney, A Brain
Replacements: D McRae, R Barugh, M Harrington, P Noriega, T Cameron, G Plimmer, R Kellam
British & Irish Lions: Brian O'Driscoll (Leinster/Ireland); Dan Luger (Saracens/England), Mark Taylor (Swansea/Wales), Will Greenwood (Harlequins/England), Ben Cohen (Northampton/England); Ronan O’Gara (Munster/Ireland), Rob Howley (Cardiff/Wales); Darren Morris (Swansea/Wales), Keith Wood (c) (Harlequins/Ireland), Phil Vickery (Gloucester/England), Danny Grewcock (Saracens/England), Malcolm O’Kelly (Leinster/Ireland), Richard Hill (Saracens/England), Neil Back (Leicester/England), Scott Quinnell (Llanelli/Wales)
Replacements: Robin McBryde (Llanelli/Wales),Jason Leonard (Harlequins/England), Jeremy Davidson (London Irish/Ireland), Simon Taylor (Edinburgh/Scotland), Austin Healey (Leicester/England), Rob Henderson (Wasps/Ireland), Iain Balshaw (Bath/England)
Referee: Wayne Erickson (Australia)
The Lions got off to the perfect start in Perth as Quinnell crossed for the tour's opening score with just two minutes and 13 seconds on the clock. The Llanelli No8 grabbed the first of his three tries with a typically-powerful close-range drive as he gave the Australian amateurs an early indication of what was to come.
Howley doubled the advantage before the 10-minute mark, making light work of the opposition defence by darting over from the base of an attacking scrum.
With Greenwood at the centre of a refreshing game plan geared at keeping the ball alive, the Lions continually broke through the first line of defence before leaving their hosts grasping at thin air thanks to their offloading ability and support lines.
Fittingly given the start he made in the match, Greenwood got his name on the scoresheet after 24 minutes. With his hair died peroxide blonde, the future World Cup winner was on the end of a devastating burst from O’Driscoll and the Lions were pretty much home and dry.
Neil Back put the result beyond doubt when he claimed a brace of tries from attacking lineouts in the space of three minutes with the game still not half an hour old as things continued to go to plan.
Luger set off on the first stage of his hat-trick after good work from skipper Wood and the impressive Greenwood before Quinnell’s second effort took the score past 50 with 38 minutes played.
Dan Luger was one of two hat-trick heroes for the Lions
The Lions led 57-0 at the break, with their hosts’ part-time status ensuring the second-half would be even more of a cake walk despite a raft of substitutions.
Henry made the full compliment of changes in the second period but the Lions still racked up a further nine tries. Four of those came late on, however, with the pick being the second of substitute Balshaw’s efforts.
Iain Balshaw scored twice after coming on as a replacement
Luger and Quinnell completed their hat-tricks on 61 and 74 minutes respectively, while the 100-point barrier was crossed for the first time in Lions history when Austin Healey dummied and danced his way through before racing 50 metres to the line a minute after Quinnell’s third score.
But while in truth the encounter was little more than a contact training session for the tourists, Western Australia couldn’t be faulted for their commitment to the cause. They may have been overwhelmed in every single department but they did cross the Lions’ line on two occasions – the first in the 52nd minute through left wing Brent Becroft and the second a quarter of an hour later courtesy of replacement scrum-half Robbie Barugh.
Those two defensive lapses took some of the shine off the result but they shouldn’t have shaken the Lions’ spirits after a hugely satisfactory first outing. With forwards and backs combining so effortlessly and the ball being kept in hand whenever possible, Henry’s men had shown just how they well they could adapt to the hard grounds and dry conditions, something the Australian press had publicly doubted in the lead up to the tour.
There was one area for concern, though, as the Lions monitored injuries picked up by Balshaw and Simon Taylor. While the former’s knock to the shoulder proved only minor, the news was less positive for Taylor who saw his tour ended that week as a direct result of damage he sustained to his knee.
WHAT THEY SAID
Keith Wood (Lions match captain)
"You're only a Lion once you've put on the jersey, so there's 22 guys now who are far more relaxed.
"We scored a lot of tries and did a lot of things well, but we're very annoyed about letting in the two tries. It's given us something we have to work on."
Scott Quinnell (Lions back row)
"It's never easy and all credit to Western Australia for hanging in there.
"We still have a few combinations and a structure that we need to put into place and we'll be working on that over the next few days.
"We're also very disappointed with our defence. We had set ourselves a couple of targets today and one of those was to keep a clean sheet."
The Lions in Perth
The Lions have played just four fixtures in Perth despite taking part in more than 100 in Australia across 11 tours.
Perth didn’t host a Lions match on any of the first four adventures, with the city’s residents having to wait until 1930 for their first glimpse of the travellers.
The Lions reappeared in the Garden City just once in the next 58 years, with a solitary game in 1966 the only action prior to the 1989 tour.
Perth has featured on the two most recent Lions tours to Australia, however, with the city staging the opening fixtures in both ’89 and 2001.
All four games in Perth have been against a Western Australia side that has been totally outclassed on each occasion but the Lions may not have it all their own way next time out. The emergence of Western Force as a fourth Australian Super 15 franchise means that 2013 should provide a far stiffer proposition than previous tours.
P 4 W 4
1888, 1899, 1904, 1908, 1950, 1959, 1971 none
1930: Western Australia 3 Lions 71
1966: Western Australia 3 Lions 60
1989: Western Australia 0 Lions 44
2001: Western Australia 10 Lions 116