British & Irish Lions History: Since 1888

British & Irish Lions History: Since 1888

2001-2009 – Traditions strengthen in professional era

Narrow defeats to Australia in 2001 and South Africa in 2009 do not tell the full story of a period where The Lions were a fully professional squad on and off the field.

2001 – Kiwi coach plots Australia downfall

Graham Henry

The Lions broke with tradition in 2001 by appointing their first coach from outside the British Isles in New Zealander Graham Henry, then in charge of Wales.

Captain Martin Johnson became the only man to lead the tourists twice.

Managed by Donal Lenihan, leader of the midweek team of 1989, the Tour generated excitement like no other, with more than 20,000 British & Irish Lions fans heading south in support.

The Tour could not have got off to a better as the Lions ran in 18 tries in a record 116-10 victory over an amateur Western Australia side in the opening Tour game.

Eales v Johnson

O’Driscoll Magic

When the serious stuff got underway, the Lions got a lightning start as England’s Jason Robinson crossed the whitewash to give the tourists the lead inside the first three minutes.

Further first-half tries from Dafydd James and Quinnell sent the visiting supporters into raptures.

A spectacular solo effort from O’Driscoll, prompting chants of ‘Waltzing O’Driscoll’, sealed a fourth as he charged through the Aussies defensive line to seal a resounding 29-13 victory.


Series levelled

The second Test would also be decided in its third quarter, but this time it was the Wallabies who made the decisive move.

The hosts trailed 11-6 at half-time but emerged to score 15 points in 10 minutes and set themselves up for a 35-14 win.

Wilkinson 2001

The 2001 decider

The final Test could hardly have been closer as the two teams kept pace to stand level at 23-23 with 12 minutes to play, Robinson and Wilkinson having scored tries for the tourists.

Matt Burke then kicked two penalties to give Australia a 29-23 advantage, but the Lions engineered one last chance for the try and conversion they needed to win with a lineout in the Wallabies’ 22.

Wood threw to Johnson but Australia lock Justin Harrison pulled off the steal of the series to take possession and make his side’s victory safe.

BOD Loss 2001


A Dan Carter-inspired New Zealand would be a match for any Test side in history but a series of unfortunate circumstances did not help The British & Irish Lions’ cause.

Sir Clive Woodward, who had won the World Cup with England two years prior, named 20 Englishman in total while there were 11 Irish, ten Welsh and three Scottish representatives.

A rare home fixture

Before the squad departed for their five-week Tour of New Zealand, they played their first fixture against Argentina since 1936.

The clash, which in a change from tradition took place on British shores, ended 25 points apiece with centre Ollie Smith dotting down and Wilkinson kicking 20 from the tee.


But Woodward’s best-laid plans took a blow when Wasps legend Lawrence Dallaglio’s Tour was cut short by an ankle injury and skipper Brian O’Driscoll was sidelined in the First Test for the entire Tour.

The Ireland centre – four years on from scoring a breathtaking try in the Lions’ first Test in Australia – dislocated his shoulder as the Lions went down 21-3 in Christchurch.

In between the Tests, Sir Ian McGeechan was leading a midweek side to victories against strong provinces such as Wellington, Auckland and Otago.

Carter announces himself

The Test series slipped away during the second clash as Carter, at the tender age of just 22, scored 33 points in a 48-18 victory.

The third Test started promisingly as Stephen Jones kicked the Lions into a six-point lead, but a disappointing Tour ended in Auckland with a 38-19 defeat.

2009 – Strong squad fall just short

Lions 2009 South Africa anthems

One of the best British & Irish Lions side to lose a Test series – Brian O’Driscoll, Paul O’Connell and Jamie Roberts were its lifeblood and at its epicentre was Sir Ian McGeechan.

After the difficulties faced in New Zealand in 2005, McGeechan returned the 2009 Lions to their origins, instilling them with a pride he founded in his time as a player.

Head coach Sir Ian’s 37-man squad warmed up for the first Test in Durban with six successive victories over provincial teams, including a ten-try defeat of Golden Lions.

The Test Series

The epic first Test was lost 26-21 loss with O’Connell leading his troops out in front of a bustling crowd at the ABSA Stadium which included a supreme Sea of Red.

The Sunday Times’ Stephen Jones called Simon Shaw’s performance at Loftus in the second Test the greatest by a forward anywhere, ever.

With Shaw, O’Connell, David Wallace and the all-Welsh front-row immense up front, Stephen Jones was impeccable with the boot and the Lions led 19-8.

But history had other things in mind and it proved to be a case of so near, yet so far as Bryan Habana and Jaque Fourie turned the tide before Morne Steyn broke Lions’ hearts in a 28-25 Springbok success.

McGeechan restored pride to the red jersey with a 28-9 final Test win – as Shane Williams scored two tries – to seal the Lions first Test success since 2001.


Partners & Suppliers

    Regional Sponsors

    Media Partners