British and Irish Lions in Australia

June 3, 2013 by

Australia & the Pacific, Places to Go, Suggested Itineraries, Things to Do

Are there Lions in Australia?

Well there will be in June and July!  Two-legged Lions, that is…..

Yes, the British and Irish Lions Rugby Union team is heading Downunder once again, to take on the mighty Australian Wallabies.  It’s been 12 years since they last landed on Australian shores, and they will be back roaring for blood after being narrowly beaten in the test series last time they were in Australia.

A past match between British Lions and New Zealand Maoris

A past match between British Lions and New Zealand Maoris

Who are the British and Irish Lions?

The British and Irish Lions are one of Rugby Union’s greatest traditions.  The side is formed from the four Home Unions of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and they first toured the Southern Hemisphere 125 years ago, to New Zealand and Australia.  On tour, games take place against local provinces, clubs or representative sides as well as the full test matches against the host’s national team.  These days, they head south every four years, rotating between the southern hemisphere rugby powers of New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, and in 2013, it is Australia’s turn to face them again.

History of the British and Irish Lions

The first tour in 1888 was an unofficial tour, as they could not obtain patronage from the Rugby Football Union, and it took place as a commercial venture.  They played thirty-five matches in New Zealand and Australia over the course of just over five months, and won twenty seven, drew six and lost two (although no test matches against the host nations were played).

That first tour would pave the way for the concept of Northern Hemisphere sporting sides touring to the Southern Hemisphere.  The next tour took place just three years later in 1891 to South Africa, and, with the exception of the years when World War I and World War II were taking place, they have toured Downunder ever since, every few years.  However, it wasn’t until the 1924 tour back to South Africa, that the team first became know as “the Lions”.  The Lions nickname arose from the fact that previous touring parties had featured a single lion-rampant crest on the jersey.  The irony of this was that on the 1924 tour, the single lion-rampant crest was replaced with the forerunner of the four-quartered badge with the symbols of the four represented unions, which is still worn today.

Over the last 125 years, the Lions have had varying degrees of success on the pitch, with their most successful years being in the 1950’s and 1970’s.  One of the most successful tours was in 1974, when the Lions toured South Africa, and went through 22 games unbeaten, and won the test series 3-0.  Check out some of the highlights of the 1974 tour here: (

More recently, the Lions haven’t had as much success on the pitch as in the past against the rugby powerhouses from the Southern Hemisphere.  Whilst they will generally triumph over a provincial or representative team, their success rate against the host nation’s test sides isn’t as great since the game became professional in 1995.  The last test series win for the Lions was in 1997 against South Africa, since then, the Lions have lost the test series against Australia, New Zealand and South Africa in 2001, 2005, and 2009 respectively.

What colour is a British and Irish Lion?

Since the 1950 tour, the playing strip for the British and Irish Lions has been predominately the same.  The combination of red jersey, white shorts, and green and blue socks represent the four unions of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.  Prior to 1950, the playing strip had gone through a myriad of changes, from the original  thick red, white and blue hoops of the 1888 jersey, to red and white hooped jerseys, to dark blue jerseys.  The only change to the strip these days seems to be the size of the sponsor’s logo on the front!

Where are the British and Irish Lions going “hunting” in 2013?

In 2013, the Lions are playing 10 matches on their tour.  The first is not actually in Australia, but Hong Kong, against the Barbarians (another fine rugby tradition, in that they are an invitational rugby union team based in Britain).  This will be followed up by 6 provincial matches in Australia, and 3 test matches against Australia’s national side, the Wallabies.  The full list of fixtures and dates are as follows:-

  • Saturday 1 June 2013, vs. the Barbarians, in Hong Kong
  • Wednesday 5 June 2013, vs. the Western Force, in Perth
  • Saturday 8 June 2013, vs. the Queensland Reds, in Brisbane
  • Wednesday 12 June 2013, vs. a New South Wales / Queensland Country invitational team, in Newcastle
  • Saturday 15 June 2013, vs. the New South Wales Waratahs, in Sydney
  • Tuesday 18 June 2013, vs. the ACT Brumbies, in Canberra
  • Saturday 22 June 2013, vs. the Australian Wallabies in the First Test, in Brisbane
  • Tuesday 25 June 2013, vs. the Melbourne Rebels, in Melbourne
  • Saturday 29 June 2013, vs. the Australian Wallabies in the Second Test, in Melbourne
  • Saturday 6 July 2013, vs. the Australian Wallabies in the Third Test, in Sydney

Can I get a ticket to a game ?

Good Luck!  The tickets to the test matches sold out within 15 minutes when they went on sale in February, although there are still some tickets left to some of the provincial games.  Your best bet may be to join one of the tour groups with the legions of British and Irish fans that will be making their way to visit Australia and follow the Lions in the Downunder.

So who will win the test series?

Ah – the 6 million dollar question…  The Lions should make short work of the provincial sides, as the more talented Wallaby players from those provincial sides will probably be in camp, preparing and training in the lead up to the test matches.  Having said that, I think both the Queensland Reds, and the ACT Brumbies could give the Lions a bit of a run for their money, as they are the two form Australian teams in the Super Rugby competition playing at the moment.

In regards to the test matches, I might have to toss a coin on that one.  The Wallabies will have been playing in the Super Rugby competition since mid-February, and will be match hardened.  However, some of the Lions players were showing very good form in the recent Six Nations tournament (eventually won by Wales).  It could all come down to how quickly the Lions coach Warren Gatland can get the Lions players to adapt to the hard and fast pitches of Australia, instead of the slow, wet pitches of the Northern Hemisphere.  If he can do that and get the Lions playing a fast running game instead of the kicking game normally associated with the Northern Hemisphere teams, they may be in with a chance to take the test series.  As the former England player and Lions legend Martin Johnson said, “Lions tours are bloody hard tours to win”.

-Ian Frentz

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