Classic Match: Heroic 1959 Lions win at Eden Park

The 1959 British & Irish Lions won legions of admirers all over New Zealand with their attacking brand of rugby. [more]

Classic Match: Heroic 1959 Lions win at Eden Park

However heading into the fourth Test against the All Blacks in Auckland at the end of their Tour, they were still chasing a first Test victory.

But in Eden Park they got the victory they so desperately deserved and to this day remain the only tourists – including those amazing 1971 winners – to leave that Auckland fortress with a Test win.


Over 800,000 fans in total attended the 25 games played in the land of the long white cloud – approximately a third of the entire population.

That Lions party – captained by Ronnie Dawson – was the first to be dominated by Irishmen – ten in all were in the squad, more than any other country.

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They had the experience of six tourists from 1955 – Tony O’Reilly, Jeff Butterfield and Dickie Jeeps in the backs, while Bryn Meredith, Hugh McLeod and Rhys Williams endured among the forwards – further experience was offered by 1950 tourist Malcolm Thomas.

Meanwhile, fresh attacking talent arrived in the likes of Ken Scotland, Peter Jackson, David Hewitt and Bev Risman.

In the pack, Syd Millar – a future IRB chairman – made the first of his three Tours alongside other newcomers like Irish lock Bill Mulcahy, the Welsh duo of Roddy Evans and John Faull and future Lions coach Noel Murphy.

There was also an Irish prop by the name of Gordon Wood who appeared twice on tour and whose son Keith would go on to become a Lion 38 years later in South Africa.


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. O’Reilly scored 22 tries on the tour, 17 of which came in New Zealand for a Lions record that stands to this day, while Jackson got 19 of his own out of a Lions total that reached a mammoth 165.

The Tour had begun in Australia with convincing wins in the two Tests against the Wallabies before moving on to New Zealand.

In all the Lions spent three months in the latter and played 25 matches, winning 20 and losing five – in addition to their three Test defeats they also lost to Otago and Canterbury.

The first Test, under modern scoring rules, would have been a win for the Lions but with tries only counting for three points back then they suffered a cruel defeat.

In typical style the tourists scored four tries to the All Blacks’ none but lost by a single point as New Zealand full-back Clarke kicked a world record six penalties, the last to win the game just two minutes from time.

An injury-hit Lions side lost the second Test and again it was Clarke who punished them – albeit this time with a spectacular try that sealed an 11-8 win.

The powerful New Zealand pack dominated in a 22-8 victory in the third Test meaning the series was over heading into the fourth and final Test.


It was fitting that it was Jackson and O’Reilly 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,” admitted the skipper.

“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 in the match, in which Pontypool legend Ray Prosser make his first and only Test appearance for the Lions.

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.


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

“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!”


Still, the tour was not yet over, the Lions stopped off on their way back for two matches in Canada, beating British Columbia and then Eastern Canada in successive games.

(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: 60,000

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