The first-ever Test match played by The British & Irish Lions came against South Africa all the way back in 1891 and while it may have been a low-scoring affair, its effect on the landscape of world rugby was seismic, changing the game forever.
The team, coached by Edwin “Daddy” Ash and captained by Scotland’s Bill Maclagan, did not realise it at the time but they became the first of many Lions sides to play Test series in the Southern Hemisphere – and one of the few to return unbeaten.
Get every Lions announcement directly to your email!
Just two years after the South African Rugby Board was formed, a British side was invited to promote the game and play in a series of Tests – the first to be agreed by the RFU after a British side toured Australia and New Zealand three years earlier.
While international rugby had begun at Raeburn Place in Scotland in 1871, this was to be the first Test match for both the Lions and South Africa, taking place in Port Elizabeth.
The Lions started in Cape Town and finished in Stellenbosch as the Lions went on a 20-match Tour of the country, winning the lot.
The First Test
The first Test, 125 years ago, might have been an attritional affair – just like the other two – but its significance cannot be understated.
The Lions won it 4-0, and followed that up with 3-0 and 4-0 victories in the second and third Tests.
The Tour’s ramifications for the wider game – not least in promoting rugby to a country which has since won two Rugby World Cups – were huge.
Image courtsey of SA Rugby
The Lions’ squad was largely made up of Cambridge and Oxford University players, with the likes of Richmond’s Howard Marshall and Gloucester’s Walter Jesse Jackson alongside them.
But it was Randolph Aston who stole the show on Tour, and in the opening Test in Port Elizabeth.
The powerful back scored 30 of the Lions’ 89 tries from just 20 matches, including the first try in the opening Test.
Tom Whittaker, who would later serve as a Barrister of Law in London, scored the second, with Arthur Rotherham scoring a conversion.
Test rugby had arrived for both the Lions and South Africa, and it all charts back to a scruffy, physical, match in Port Elizabeth 125 years ago.
30 JULY 1891
SOUTH AFRICA (0) 0, GREAT BRITAIN (4) 4 (Crusader Ground) Port Elizabeth
South Africa: Ben Duff; Harry Boyes, Chubb Vigne, Mosey van Buuren, Alf Richards; Frank Guthrie, Oupa Versfeld; Bill Bisset, Herbert Castens (capt), Tiger Devenish; Japie Louw, Edward Little; Fred Alexander, George Merry, Frank Hamilton.
Great Britain: Willie Mitchell; Paul Clauss, Randolph Aston(T), Bill Maclagan (capt), Arthur Rotherham(C); William Wotherspoon, William Bromet; John Gould, Johnny Hammond, Froude Hancock; Judy MacMillan, Clement Simpson; Aubone Surtees, Robert Thompson, Tom Whittaker(T).
Scoring sequence: Aston R.L. (T) 0-1, Whittaker T.S. (T) 0-2, Rotherham A. (C) 0-4.
Referee: John Griffin (South Africa).