Classic Match: 1980 Lions salvage pride against the Boks

The 1980 British & Irish Lions Test series proved a huge challenge, with Noel Murphy's side losing three Tests out of three going into the final match at Loftus Versfeld Stadium to salvage some pride. [more]

Classic Match: 1980 Lions salvage pride against the Boks

The 1980 British & Irish Lions Test series proved a huge challenge, with Noel Murphy’s side losing three Tests out of three going into the final match at Loftus Versfeld Stadium to salvage some pride.

Despite boasting a perfect 14 out of 14 record in non-Test matches on the tour, Murphy was not prepared to let the Lions fly back with a Test whitewash, and selected his strongest side possible in a squad disrupted by injuries and early absentees.


South Africa were eager to complete what would have been a first-ever whitewash over the touring Lions – they had won 3-0 on two occasions, with one match drawn in both the 1924 and 1968 series.

The colossal Bill Beaumont led the Lions side, with Peter Wheeler, Jeff Squire and Clive Williams the other seasoned Lions players in the starting-line up, all of whom had featured in the 1977 tour of New Zealand.

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And despite the injury woes, none of the starting Lions 15 were debutants.

South Africa had the momentum and kept a strong side, with the likes of skipper Morne du Plessis, Naas Botha and Gerrie Germishuys leading the Springbok charge.


Ollie Campbell and Naas Botha exchanges penalties as the teams felt each other out, before the Lions seized the initiative. Welsh prop Clive Williams, burrowed over for the game’s first try, a lead which Murphy’s men held until the interval.

The South Africans came out in the second half fighting, despite the Lions’ impressive forward dominance. Willie du Plessis levelled for the hosts and Gysie Pienaar’s conversion put the Springboks into the lead.

However, two tries in as many minutes from Scottish full-back Andy Irvine and flanker John O’Driscoll had the Lions back in the lead, a lead they would not surrender.


Bill Beaumont led the Lions in 1980

Beaumont was carried off the field shoulder high after being an integral factor in keeping the morale of the squad high, despite three defeats prior to this Test.

The skipper believed the bad luck with injuries cost the Lions, and that the original squad was among the best ever produced by the Lions.

He also admitted of his bursting pride at having the honour of skippering the team in the Famous Red Jersey.
“It was a great honour to captain the Lions, and it was also different because the sense of responsibility meant you became much more focused on the tour as a whole," he said.

“In 1980, as captain, you had to prove you were worth your place in the Test side. We got close, but we weren’t able to turn our pressure into victories.

“I still think we should have at least tied the Test series. As it was, we were unlucky to lose the first, got well beaten in the second, got pipped in the third and won the fourth.

John Beattie added of Beaumont: “Bill Beaumont was an incredible captain and an incredible player, if everyone in the pack had been like him then it would have been great.”


The victory was won with courage and heart, and without a remarkable number of first-team players, with nine in all leaving the tour early.

Colin Patterson, Rodney O'Donnell, David Richards, Gareth Davies, Terry Holmes, Stuart Lane, Phil Blakeway and Fran Cotton all flew back due to injury or illness.

Colin Patterson (centre) was one of a hatful of Lions players injured on the Tour

Another, Mike Slemen, returned home due to a family illness.

Lane’s shoulder injury, sustained 55 seconds into his opening game, gave him the shortest career of any touring Lion – he never played international rugby again.

O’Donnell and Patterson’s respective neck and knee injuries meant they never took to the professional rugby field again.

“Two things decided the outcome of the series. A string of key Lions players were injured, including Terry Holmes, Gareth Davies, and our only open-side, Stuart Lane,” Cotton said.

“And, as happened with the All-Blacks in 1977, the Springboks out-thought the Lions.”

Beaumont added: “We were very unlucky with injuries. We had to play four different half-back combinations in the series and lost the services of Holmes and Davies.”


The 1980 tour marked the first of the short tours, where 18 matches were played in ten weeks. The morale of the side was a huge factor in keeping enough momentum going to claim the valiant final win they did.

Such a unique experience is encapsulated in the words of hooker Peter Wheeler, who played on both the 1977 and 1980 Tours, and was part of the winning side in Pretoria.

“A Lions tour is like a three-year university degree crammed into three months. It is a test of character to get to know 30 blokes intimately, who became lifelong friends,” he said.  

“Whether it’s strength’s weaknesses or foibles, they will be found out and examined.

“It is up there with my best achievements and it means an awful lot. It was also the amateur era, and no one got annoyed if you enjoyed yourself.

“You wouldn’t swap those memories or tours for anything.”

South Africa 13
Try: W. du Plessis
Penalty: Pienaar (2)

The British & Irish Lions 17
Tries: C. Williams, Irvine, O’Driscoll
Conversions: Campbell
Penalties: Campbell

South Africa: Gysie Pienaar, Ray Mordt, David Smith, Willie du Plessis, Gerrie Germishuys, Naas Botha, Divan Serfontein, Morné du Plessis (c), Theuns Stofberg, Rob Louw, Louis Moolman, Moaner van Heerden, Martiens le Roux, Ewoud Malan, Richard Prentis

British & Irish Lions: Andy Irvine, John Carleton, Ray Gravell, Paul Dodge, Bruce Hay, Ollie Campbell, John Robbie, Jeff Squire, John O'Driscoll, Colm Tucker, Maurice Colclough, Bill Beaumont (c), Graham Price, Peter Wheeler, Clive Williams.

Referee: J-P Bonnet (FRA)
Attendance: 68,000

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