On This Day: Springboks flex muscles against 1980 Lions
When remembering previous British & Irish Lions to South Africa, it is no surprise that the series victories in 1974 and 1997 are the two that spring to mind first.
1974 is the stuff of legend after Willie John McBride and co became the first Lions team to go unbeaten across an entire Tour, winning 21 of their 22 matches and drawing the other.
Then there’s the first Tour of the professional era in 1997, and the first after the end of the apartheid in South Africa, which saw Martin Johnson lead the visitors to a glorious 2-1 success.
But between those two storied battles is the often overshadowed Tour in 1980, when the Lions lost the Test series 3-1 but won all 14 of the non-internationals they played.
With today marking 40 years since the second Test, here’s a look back at the Tour and the match that all-but ended the Lions’ hopes of coming away with a series triumph.
England were the form home nation heading to South Africa in 1980, winning the Grand Slam and inflicting the only defeat on New Zealand during the All Blacks’ tour.
Bill Beaumont was an obvious selection to captain Noel Murphy’s Lions but a shortened Tour, with 18 games in ten weeks, saw the tourists plagued by a series of injuries.
The Lions won all six matches in the build up to the opening Test in Cape Town, where Jim Renwick was among the players handed a starting place – his one and only Lions cap.
“I maybe had a wee chance in 1977 but Scotland had a bad year and I didn’t have a good season so I didn’t get picked and they chose a few other guys,” Renwick explained.
“I thought maybe I had missed the boat because I was 28 when I went, I thought in 1980 I had a wee chance but when the teams got announced it was nice to get picked, it was the icing on the cake.”
MEMORIES TO LAST A LIFETIME
After being given the nod from Murphy for the Test series curtain-raiser, Renwick was keen to make the most of his chance to wear the famous red of the Lions.
Yet despite his best efforts, the hosts triumphed 26-22 at Newlands Stadium as the Springboks outscored the tourists by five tries to one, with Tony Ward kicking the majority of the Lions’ points.
Even in defeat, Renwick still made memories to last a lifetime in South Africa.
“Alan Tomes and myself both came from Hawick and we went with the mind that we were going to train everyday and try our best and whatever we got we got,” he said.
“It was a happy Tour, it was a good Tour. It was a great experience, it was like anything in life, you don’t really know what to expect, you’re just out there and you take it in.
“The common thing is that you’re all wanting to play well and look at getting in the Test side and trying to do the best you can. The whole thing was great from the time we met.”
UNABLE TO TURN THE TIDE
With the tourists on the back foot after the first Test, the selectors kept faith with the pack but made several changes to the Lions backs as Renwick missed out to one of the new faces.
Victories in all three of their non-international matches before the second Test suggested the Lions were back on track, only for South Africa to claim the spoils again in Bloemfontein.
Tries from Rob Louw, Theuns Stofberg, Gerrie Germishuys and Gysie Pienaar did the damage this time around as the hosts stormed into a 2-0 series advantage with a comfortable 26-19 win.
And despite picking up another couple of wins going into the third Test, the Lions were unable to wrestle back the series in Port Elizabeth as they narrowly went down 12-10.
The Lions went on to win their final four matches of the Tour, including the fourth and final Test in Pretoria by a margin of 17-13, but it was too little, too late to save the series.
Beaumont later 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.”