Lions Legend: Ieuan Evans

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Ieuan Evans sidesteps the tackles

Ieuan Evans’ record for The British & Irish Lions speaks for itself.

A prominent member on three consecutive Tours, he finished with two series victories and nine tries from 20 appearances, including the decisive score against Australia in 1989.

The Welsh winger’s only series defeat came against the All Blacks in 1993, a Tour on which he also impressed after his four tries saw him return from New Zealand as the top try-scorer.

Evans also appeared 72 times for Wales and captained his country on 28 occasions during his illustrious career – but it is for his Lions exploits that he is best remembered.

Having made his Test debut for Wales in 1987, two years later the man dubbed “Merlin” by TV commentator Bill McLaren was called up by Sir Ian McGeechan for his first Lions Tour.

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He hit the ground running with a try in the opening match of the Tour, a comprehensive 44-0 victory over Western Australia, before also featuring in wins over Australia B and NSW Waratahs.

Evans retained his place on the right wing for the first Test against the Wallabies, which ended in a 30-12 defeat, while he also started the much-improved 19-12 win in the second Test.

With the series tied at one-apiece and Australia holding a narrow lead early in the second half of the decider, Evans capitalised on a moment of madness from David Campese.

One of the game’s most-instinctive players, the Wallaby wing attempted to run the ball out from behind his own tryline before throwing a speculative pass to Greig Martin.

Ieuan Evans

The Australian full-back could get nowhere the ball, allowing Evans to pounce and score the match-winning try as the tourists completed a historic comeback to seal the series.

“The third Test turned into a game of chess – it was very nervy and tense,” said Evans.

“Nobody wanted to blink. It was physical and intense, but having responded to the beating we had taken in the first Test we were back on a level playing field.

“Games like that turn on tiny margins. Moments of genius or errors dictate who comes out on top and, in this case, it was an error by David Campese that proved the difference.

“It was one of the worst drop-goals ever. It came off the side of his boot and was heading to the corner flag. Campese caught it behind his line and, like any dutiful wing, I chased what seemed to be another lost cause.

“I’m not sure why he tried to run out from behind his own line. But he didn’t try the dummy and his pass to Greg Martin went to ground and I dived on top of it.

“In terms of significance and importance, that try helping the Lions to win a Test series after losing the first game, it was the most important try of my career.

“What a shame all I had to do was dive on the ball over the line!”

After returning from Australia a hero, Evans was selected again four years later by McGeechan for the Tour to New Zealand as his try-scoring prowess came to the fore once more.

He crossed the whitewash in his first three Tour matches – against North Harbour, New Zealand Maori and Otago – before starting all three Tests in the 2-1 series defeat to the All Blacks.

A fourth try against Auckland in between the first and second Tests meant Evans concluded the Tour as the Lions’ top try-scorer – taking his overall tally to six tries from two Tours.

Ieuan Evans

But the individual satisfaction Evans came away with from the 1989 and 1993 Tours did not match the joy he experienced as a collective as part of the famous 1997 tourists in South Africa.

The Lions were given no hope against the mighty Springboks in their first Tour to South Africa in 17 years, with many predicting the reigning world champions would sweep aside the tourists.

Yet McGeechan’s men defied the odds to win the series 2-1 and etch their names into Lions folklore, with Evans picking up his seventh Test cap in the 25-16 triumph in Cape Town.

Evans also scored another three tries on the Tour in South Africa and while he missed out on the second and third Tests, it remains his happiest memory from his Lions career.

“Very few gave us a chance,” recalled Evans. “As we flew off, the Springboks gave the very strong impression that they only had to turn up to win the series.

“Joel Stransky and Rudi Straueli, two English-based members of their 1995 World Cup team, were so impressed by the Lions that they backed South Africa to win 3-0. By then we were beginning to think that we were on the verge of doing something famous.

“Geech had been talking our chances up from the outset, and I could sense even before we had got round to playing a match that there was a collective strength about this Lions squad which had not been there in the last one in New Zealand four years before.

“No matter how great the individual disappointments, not once during the seven weeks travelling round South Africa did anyone let his personal dissatisfaction affect the common cause.

“Having such a competitive element throughout the team in almost every position helped hugely. Every one of the 35 players thought he was in with a chance of making the first Test.

“That helped us avoid falling into the traditional Lions trap of the party being split, almost immediately, into the Saturday team and the lesser midweek team. I had been on some far from happy tours in my time, but this was unquestionably the happiest I had ever known.”

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