On This Day: The 1959 Lions leave New Zealand on a high

By the time of the fourth Test of The British & Irish Lions Tour to New Zealand in 1959 - Ronnie Dawson's tourists felt like something had to give. [more]

On This Day: The 1959 Lions leave New Zealand on a high

By the time of the fourth Test of The British & Irish Lions Tour to New Zealand in 1959 – Ronnie Dawson’s tourists felt like something had to give.

They had come so close to a Test victory in the first and second clashes that skipper Dawson was confident that they would not leave New Zealand empty-handed.

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All Black full-back Don Clarke had been giving the tourists sleepless nights all summer – his long-range goal-kicking proving the difference between the two sides.

Ahead of the final clash at Eden Park the series had already been decided – pride was what the Lions had to play for.

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But, led by manager Alf Wilson and captained by Ireland hooker Dawson, their brand of attacking rugby had already established themselves as fan favourites.

“We had got the home fans on our side with our performances but it was getting a bit frustrating,” said Dawson.

“We played great rugby on that Tour – we were not downcast – but certainly disappointed coming into the fourth Test.

Tony O'Reilly goes over for a try at Eden Park in the fourth Test

“We had lost the series and probably the most frustrating game had been the first Test – that was one we should never have lost.

“The second was close as well – in fact the only one were we really got thrashed was the third Test in Christchurch.

“Goalkicking was our real weakness and by contrast the All Blacks had Don Clarke who was kicking everything.

“We didn’t have a kicker of any real consequence – Bev (Risman) would take some but he was only good from in close – no-one had the range of Don.

“Going into the last one obviously we wanted to beat them.”


The 1959 Lions scored more points than any other – 842 in 33 games, 25 of which were in New Zealand, six in Australia and two in Canada.

The chief architects of this fast-paced style were their two flying wingers. Tony O’Reilly – now Sir Anthony O'Reilly – scored 22 tries on the tour, 17 of which came in New Zealand for a Lions record that stands to this day held jointly with John Bevan, while Peter Jackson got 19 of his own out of a Lions total that reached a mammoth 165.
And it was fitting that it was those two who crossed for scores on an Auckland pitch that Dawson had already warned the Kiwis was going to be a problem.

“It was a difficult one because prior to the match it had been raining pretty heavily and we were concerned that if we played the warm-up games on that pitch then we were going to have trouble,” he added. 

“And sure enough it was very soft and had cut up quite badly by the time the Test started.

“It was great to win that game and get what we thought we deserved but as pleasing was the fact that – despite the weather – we scored three well-worked tries.

“They were the product of fantastic interplay between our backs.

“Peter Jackson and Tony O’Reilly both scored fine tries but the one that sticks in my mind was Bev’s.”


Risman’s dart down the blindside has entered Lions folklore but despite the three tries – the Lions were still clinging on at the end.

And they needed that rarest of things – a missed Clarke penalty – to secure the victory. 

“Don was a tremendous kicker who seemed to punish us at every turn – we had discussed trying to give away less penalties,” added Dawson.  

“He had kicked two penalties already in that match but he missed a vital one at the end in the latter stages of the Test.

“We all had our fingers crossed, our legs crossed, and I think some were even saying a prayer as well by that stage as he lined it up.”


Having finally secured the Test win that they craved, the Lions could head home with their heads held high despite a 3-1 series defeat.

And while Dawson remembers a pleasant post-match function with a New Zealand side they had developed a nice rapport with – the overriding emotion was one of relief as they set off on the long journey home. 

“Obviously the primary aim of the Tour had been to beat the All Blacks and we had done it,” he added.

“But in those days it was a long old Tour, from May to October and I think we played something like 33 games so by the end we were pretty mentally and physically tired.

“So although it was great to have won, it was also great to have it over and to be going home!

“It is a very proud memory for me and the whole team – it was a team success that made all of us happy and maybe me as captain I was allowed to be a little bit extra happy!”
NEW ZEALAND (3) 6, BRITISH & IRISH LIONS (3) 9 (Eden Park)

New Zealand: Don Clarke(2P); Bruce McPhail, Terry Lineen, Adrian Clarke, Ralph Caulton; John McCullough, Spider Urbahn; Wilson Whineray (capt), Ron Hemi, Mark Irwin; Colin Meads, Tiny Hill; Rex Pickering, Kel Tremain, Dick Conway.
Replacements used:
British & Irish Lions:
Terry Davies; Peter Jackson(T), Dave Hewitt, Ken Scotland, Tony O'Reilly(T); Bev Risman(T), Andy Mulligan; Hugh McLeod, Ronnie Dawson (capt), Ray Prosser; Rhys Williams, Bill Mulcahy; Noel Murphy, Haydn Morgan, John Faull.
Replacements used:
Scoring sequence:
9' Clarke (P) 3-0, 13' Jackson (T) 3-3, 44' O'Reilly (T) 3-6, 49' Clarke (P) 6-6, 60' Risman (T) 6-9.
Referee: Pat Murphy (New Zealand).
Attendance: 60000.

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