When The British & Irish Lions went to Paris to take on France

History was made at the Parc des Princes in 1989 as The British & Irish Lions faced France for the first and only time. [more]

When The British & Irish Lions went to Paris to take on France

History was made at the Parc des Princes in 1989 as The British & Irish Lions faced France for the first and only time.

The match was part of the bicentenary celebrations of the French Revolution, coming a few months on from a thrilling Tour of Australia where the Lions had become the first, and to date, only side to come from behind to win a Test series.

The team that took on France three months later had a different feel and a different captain, with a desire to entertain in the French capital.

Their task, even against a relatively new-look France team, was immense. Les Bleus had not lost a home game in the Five Nations in seven years, and only the All Blacks had managed to beat them in France over that period.

So the 15 men who took to the field at the Parc des Princes in red that day were all seeking a first-ever win on French soil.

With Sir Ian McGeechan coaching and Rob Andrew taking on captaincy duties, the Lions made their intentions clear from the off. They were not in town to grind out a win, they were there to put on a show.

As McGeechan explained afterwards, this was a very different Lions approach, and it paid off with a 29-27 victory.

“What stood out is that, contrary to what we usually do, we were the ones who took the initiative and attacked, rather than waiting,” McGeechan told the Midi Olympique. “British rugby is finished with its complex against the top teams. And this win, after a session and a half of preparation, underlines the importance of the concept of the Lions.”

After a long and gruelling Tour of Australia, the Lions went to France with a few changes, notably in the pack where the majority of those who had starred Down Under were absent, including captain Finlay Calder.

That opened the door for a few new faces, with Phillip Matthews of Ireland and Dave Egerton and Jeff Probyn of England making their sole appearances in the red of the Lions.

In the case of Egerton, who sadly passed away in 2021, it was an opportunity that he cherished.

“It was a great honour to wear the Lions jersey. I had a phone call the day before the game, dashed over to Bristol Airport – and forgot my passport!

“My girlfriend had to bring it. Ian McGeechan was the coach, I roomed with Robert Jones, the scrum-half, to get acquainted with him, and we trained in the morning of the game.

“I then fell asleep in the afternoon and woke feeling the best I ever had. I got all the kit, the jersey and then recently the cap. When that came through, I was delighted.”

The Lions stormed out of the blocks in the game, Jeremy Guscott finding his skipper Andrew inside him for the first try of the game.

Gavin Hastings converted and then slotted two penalties and the Lions were flying at 12-0.

France responded with a penalty from Didier Camberabero before the great Serge Blanco dummied and glided his way over to get the home side back to within three points.

A Scottish combination of Damian Cronin and Hastings then saw the latter shake two tackles to get over in the right corner – giving the visitors a 16-9 half-time lead.

The full-back added another penalty before his second try of the game, which saw great build-up work from Mike Griffiths, the Wales prop, Guscott and Brendan Mullin of Ireland and was finished off by the Scot for a try made by all four home nations.

France had a mountain to climb to get back into it, but a debut try for flanker Philippe Benetton gave them some hope, tempered immediately by a drop goal from Andrew.

Camberabero kicked two more penalties to one from Hastings as the Lions led 29-20 heading into the final stages. And the French fly-half finished with a flourish, dancing past a couple of tacklers for his side’s third try, but even with the conversion, there was no time left to chase a win.

So, the crowd of nearly 45,000 went away after watching their side suffer a rare home defeat. But after such an entertaining afternoon and brilliant rugby from both sides, it went down as a special occasion in both Lions and French history.


France: Serge Blanco; Bernard Lacombe, Philippe Sella, Marc Andrieu, Patrice Lagisquet; Didier Camberabero, Pierre Berbizier (captain); Marc Pujolle (Herve Chabowski, 62), Dominique Bouet, Laurent Seigne, Gilles Bourguignon, Thierry Devergie, Philippe Benetton, Olivier Roumat, Laurent Rodriguez.

Lions: Gavin Hastings; Scott Hastings, Brendan Mullin, Jerry Guscott, Rory Underwood; Rob Andrew (captain), Robert Jones; Mike Griffiths, Steve Smith, Jeff Probyn, Paul Ackford, Damian Cronin, Phillip Matthews, Andy Robinson, Dave Egerton.

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