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When the Lions played Australian Rules

When the Lions played Australian Rules

The 1888 British and Irish Lions Tour of New Zealand and Australia was a landmark not only because it was the first, but for the fact it also included 19 games of Australian, then Victorian, rules football.

One player in particular, Andrew Stoddart, caught the eye and was invited to stay after the tour to play the native format of the game.

The 1888 British and Irish Lions Tour of New Zealand and Australia was a landmark not only because it was the first, but for the fact it also included 19 games of Australian, then Victorian, rules football.

The Tour was organised by James Lillywhite, who captained England against Australia in the inaugural cricket Test at the MCG in 1877. He promised to bring a team of rugby players on the next tour to face the Australians under their own code of rules.

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Subtle differences separated the two at the time. Twenty players, rather than 15, were permitted under Australian rules while players could call a mark after a catch and had to bounce the ball every seven yards while in possession. There was also no offside rule.
 
The idea of a rugby tour had been raised before by Richmond captain Frank Adams in 1879. Henry Colden Harrison, one of the fathers of the Australian code, had also tried and failed to organise a tour to England five years later. But in 1888 the idea came to fruition.
 
Once Lillywhite and Arthur Shrewsbury, one of the leading batsmen of the day, returned to England, they wrote to elite players who might consider partaking with the promise of a 54-match Tour including rugby and Australian rules.
 
First taste of Aussie rules

The Australian rules section of the tour began with an 11-goal defeat to Carlton in June, but the Lions bounced back with a win over Bendigo four days later. In total they played 18 games, winning five and drawing one.
 
One player in particular, Andrew Stoddart, caught the eye and was invited to stay after the tour to play the native format of the game. However, he declined and returned to England with the rest of the 22-strong squad. Perhaps unsurprisingly Stoddart was an all-round sportsman and played cricket for Middlesex between 1885 and 1900.
 
The legacy of the tour on Australian rugby is evident. When the Lions arrived in the southern hemisphere there were no rugby clubs in Victoria. By the 1930s the state supplied 13 players to the Wallabies.

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