No Lions side had ever won a series having lost the opening Test.
But with the series all-square, a win in Sydney would cement this team – led by head coach Sir Ian McGeechan and captain Finlay Calder – in the record books.
The Lions remained unchanged from the second Test, with forward Calder leading out the side, the first Scot to have the role since Mike Campbell-Lamerton in 1966.
The centre partnership was made up of Scott Hastings and Jerry Guscott, a pair who replaced Mike Hall and Brendan Mullin in the second Test as the Lions bounced back from that opening defeat in Sydney.
Paul Ackford and Wade Dooley led the second row behind a front row of David Sole, Brian Moore and Dai Young.
Ieuan Evans and Rory Underwood made up the wings with Gavin Hastings at full-back, Rob Andrew at fly-half with Robert Jones at scrum-half.
Mike Teague joined Calder in the back row with Dean Richards making up the XV at No.8.
The Lions had a nearly unblemished record on the Tour, winning eight of their nine matches and losing only to Australia in the first Test.
A 44-0 humbling of Western Australia in their first match got the Tour off to a fast start and although subsequent victories were comparatively less convincing – including a two-point win over New South Wales – it left spirits high heading into the Wallabies Tests.
The opening Test temporarily put the brakes on that run, being defeated 30-12 in Sydney, before reigniting the momentum with a win from behind against ACT and a 19-12 win in the second Test.
Some early pressure from the Lions was quickly rewarded as Gavin Hastings scored a penalty in the ninth minute, before Australia’s lineout infringement allowed Hastings to kick through the posts once again.
Michael Lynagh’s cool penalty from distance pulled the game back to 3-6 but when Robert Jones was impeded, Hastings reinstated the Lions’ six-point advantage with a terrific penalty from the far left.
With the break approaching, Ian Williams finished off a mesmeric try set up by Lynagh, who weaved his way through the Lions’ backline, before converting to make it 9-9.
The fly-half gave his side the lead for the first time with another penalty after the break as the tie continued to thrill the 40,000 fans in attendance.
With 20 minutes remaining, Rob Andrew’s drop-kick fell wide, but a moment of madness from winger David Campese saw him lose possession and Ieuan Evans went over to regain the lead.
Hastings missed the conversion but two penalties soon after gave the Lions a 19-12 advantage with 20 minutes remaining.
Two more penalties from Lynagh brought Australia back to within one but his efforts were in vain as the Lions held out for a famous victory.
WHAT THEY SAID
Finlay Calder, Lions captain:
“We’ve been criticised over the last decade of being out of touch with the southern hemisphere, and I’ve always said if we had the right preparation and the right time, we’re as good as anybody.
“It just shows that if you do stick at something, it does come off eventually.”
Scott Hastings, Lions centre:
“It was a marvellous Tour under the best Lions’ captain, Finlay Calder.
“Wearing that red jersey is very special but being part of a squad that has won a Test series is even more precious.”
15 JULY 1989
AUSTRALIA (9) 18, BRITISH & IRISH LIONS (9) 19
Sydney Football Stadium
Penalties: Lynagh 4
British & Irish Lions 19
Penalties: Hastings 5
Australia: Greg Martin, Ian Williams (T), Dominic Maguire, Lloyd Walker, David Campese, Michael Lynagh (C, 4P), Nick Farr-Jones (capt), Mark Hartill, Tom Lawton, Dan Crowley, Bill Campbell, Steve Cutler, Scott Gourley, Jeff Miller, Steve Tuynman.
Replacements: Leigh Donnellan, Mack McBain, Tim Gavin, Peter Slattery, Tim Horan, Acura Niuqila.
British & Irish Lions: Gavin Hastings (5P), Ieuan Evans (T), Scott Hastings, Jerry Guscott, Rory Underwood, Rob Andrew, Robert Jones, David Sole, Brian Moore, Dai Young, Paul Ackford, Wade Dooley, Mike Teague, Finlay Calder (capt), Dean Richards.
Replacements: Steve Smith, Mike Griffiths, Derek White, Gary Armstrong, Craig Chalmers, John Devereux.
Referee: Rene Hourquet (France)