Lions Legend: Rob Wainwright


Rob Wainwright

Rob Wainwright might just be the ultimate British & Irish Lions teammate.

A member of the fabled 1997 touring team, the Scottish hero made seven appearances in South Africa and earned a Test cap in the final match against the Springboks.

But it’s his actions since the Tour that have reinforced the incredible bond forged by the Lions, one that prompted him to create Doddie Aid for his fellow tourist Doddie Weir.

The mass participation fundraising events have raised more than £1m towards finding a cure for Motor Neurone Disease since Weir revealed he had been diagnosed with the condition in 2017.

And it should come as no surprise that Wainwright, who was also Scotland’s first professional captain, has such fond memories of his time in the famous red jersey.

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“I think the Lions is a marvellous thing and I think the role of the Lions is massive. It’s amazing to have this pinnacle available every four years, something to strive for,” he said.

“It’s loved by the fans and it’s hugely exciting for the players.”

Born in Perth, Scotland, Wainwright was doctor by profession and was commissioned into the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1987 before being promoted to Lieutenant in 1990.

He became a Captain on the completion of his medical training in 1991 and a Major in 1996, managing to balance his semi-professional rugby career alongside his military life.

Rob Wainwright

Wainwright was able to play across the back row positions and received his first Scotland cap in 1992 before making a name for himself in the 1994 Five Nations with a try against England.

He took over the captaincy from Gavin Hastings after the 1995 Rugby World Cup, becoming his country’s first professional skipper, and guided Scotland to second in the 1996 Five Nations.

South Africa came near the end of his career and he made an instant impression in the Lions jersey, captaining the tourists against Border and scoring a try in the 18-14 win.

His next appearance for the tourists proved to be even more memorable, with Wainwright scoring a hat-trick in the 64-14 win over Mpumalanga to push his case for a Test start.

But that match ultimately became hard to forget for all the wrong reasons as it was the scene of the knee injury that ruled fellow Scot Weir out of the rest of the Tour in South Africa.

The moment Weir was told the heartbreaking news was documented in Living With Lions and Wainwright remembers how the mood quickly changed after the full extent was known.

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“I was really upset that Doddie got injured [against Mpumalanga],” recalled Wainwright. “I shouldn’t say it this way as I was obviously upset that Doddie got injured full stop…

“But at the time I didn’t know how bad the injury was and the incident was drawing away from my hat-trick. The press was all talking about Doddie’s injury and not about my hat-trick.

“I was disappointed on a really human level but then we obviously found out how bad the injury was and everyone has lived that moment in Living With the Lions.

“You have to see Rob Howley and Doddie being told their Tour is over and both of them assumed they would be in the Test team and it was such a painful thing.

“But we took Doddie out and had a good night with him. I remember Keith Wood, Doddie and myself ended up somewhere late at night and gave him a good send off.”

Rob Wainwright

Wainwright went on to play in the narrow defeat to Northern Transvaal, as well as the wins over Sharks, Free State and Northern Free State, but he missed out on the first two Test matches.

With the series victory secured, Wainwright was subsequently handed his first and only Test cap for the Lions in the final meeting with the Springboks – a match he only relived recently.

“I only watched the third Test for the first time ever recently. Having never seen the game I have vague memories of things I’d done heroically and things I’d not done well,” he said.

“It’s always painful to have your version of events shattered. I suppose I got nutmegged is the only way you could describe it, by a few of the young South African backs.

“But it was an amazing thing to be involved with. It was probably the toughest game of rugby that I ever played; I came away from it with a fractured sternum from Andre Venter’s tackle.

“It was an incredibly tough game but you wouldn’t change it. It’s something to have, something to have done, it’s the pinnacle for British & Irish rugby players.”

Wainwright also has fond memories of the celebrations after the series-sealing second Test victory, joining forces with a fellow teammate to cause all kinds of chaos.

He said: “Mike Catt and I after the second Test, when we’d got the series win, we ended up – I can’t remember the name of the nightclub that’s just in this pavilion on the side of King’s Park.

“We went round and my memory is that we went round and tore everyone’s shirts off. We were just on top of the world that night and we could get away with celebratory hijinks.”

But while Wainwright played a massive role both on and off the pitch in South Africa, it is his fundraising in support of Weir that have shown the true calibre of the man.

If you’re looking for someone who embodies the spirit of the Lions, then look no further.

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