Most influential British & Irish Lions of all time named
September 21, 2012
Ireland's Ronan O'Gara has been named the 'most influential Lion' of all-time © Getty Images
In an announcement timed to coincide with the recent unveiling of Warren Gatland as head coach for the 2013 British & Irish Lions tour to Australia, a committee of ex-players, journalists and select rugby experts have announced the most influential Lions of all time.
The British & Irish Lions History Committee undertook an exhaustive review of each Lions tour since the 1910 expedition to South Africa to compile a list of the five most significant Lions ever to have donned the famous scarlet jersey and also the most important administrator.
"We wanted to remember the greatest players to have worn the jersey," said chairman of the committee Andrew Jackson. "These are the men who we feel had more impact on the Lions than any other. Anyone who really knows their rugby really can't deny this list is absolutely spot on."
So, in reverse order, The East Terrace can exclusively reveal the definitive 'Most Influential Lions of All Time' list.
6. Matt Dawson - Australia 2001
Matt Dawson redefined the very concept of how a squad should prepare for a major Test series by airing his delicate opinion on coaching matters in a small, emotional, private presentation he made on the morning of the first Test against the 2001 Wallabies. The presentation was relayed in a very low key manner in The Daily Telegraph newspaper and did much to alter squad spirit and harmony over the coming weeks.
5. Dickie Jeeps - South Africa 1955, Australia/New Zealand 1959, South Africa 1962
"No other player has had such an awesome name," explains Jackson when asked about the selection of the English scrum-half at number five in the list. "I've no idea if he always wore a snappy scarf and snazzy blazer whilst smoking a pipe, but his name makes it sound like he certainly did. He probably also had an awesome moustache - the type of moustache on which the British Empire was founded. Therefore he deserves his spot in the pantheon of rugby history."
4. Alistair Campbell (Media Relations) - New Zealand 2005
The only non-player in the list, Campbell was, however, greatly admired by all players he toured with (most notably Neil Back).
From delicately arranging secret photos of Gavin Henson and Clive Woodward for the media to use to getting involved in post-match team talks, Campbell changed the game when it came to how Lions' tours should be handled.
As media manager he was also probably key in advising coach Clive Woodward to go on and on and on and on and on and on and on about O'Driscoll's controversial injury in the first Test and to ignore all the worrying rugby aspects of the tour.
"Everyone was delighted to see Campbell wearing the Lions tracksuit just like a player," adds Jackson.
3. Mike Teague's moustache and mullet - Australia 1989
The Australian success in 1989 was the only time the Lions have ever won a series after going down 1-0. Despite being thrashed in the first game by 30-12, the Lions claimed back to back wins to go down in rugby folklore.
Many critics point to Teague's selection for the second Test as a turning point in the series win, highlighting his brash and physical approach as the key to the turnaround.
"That's nonsense," says Jackson when asked about the theory. "The Aussies were in awe of his awesome moustache and mullet and he simply dazzled them. A true hero of the game and we need more like him."
Controversially, it was Teague, rather than his hair, who was named Player of the Series.
2. George North - Australia 2013
George North's arrival on the international rugby scene aged about six was one of the biggest seismic shocks the game has ever seen. His famous press conference in 2012 cemented his reputation as a literal god.
"Who can argue with our choice of number two?" said Jackson. "Having spoken with the Oracle of Barry Island and checked the alignment of the stars we know that eight-foot-tall George North's fourteen tries in the opening two Tests of next year's tour will go down in history as one of the greatest individual performances in the history of not just rugby, but also world sport. Well done, Oh Mighty!"
1. Ronan O'Gara - South Africa 2009
The undisputed king of the British & Irish Lions History Committee's list of all-time most influential Lions is Ronan O'Gara.
Despite going on Lions tours in 2001, 2005 and 2009, O'Gara only gained two Lions' Test caps, both as replacements. It was in 2009 as a replacement in the crucial second Test against South Africa, that he became a legend. Coming on with 13 minutes of normal time remaining, O'Gara went on to have a series-turning impact.
Chairman Jackson takes it from here: "Has there ever been a more important thirteen minutes in Lions' history? I think not. O'Gara's first tackle? Well he went in a bit iffy and whacked his head. His second act was to be a minor inconvenience for Jaque Fourie as he scored the try which put South Africa in the lead after 74 minutes. The Lions pulled it back to 25-25 but, wait, there was a twist.
"O'Gara's next act was to secure the series by putting up an aimless up and under and then followed it up by taking the receiver, Fourie Du Preez, out in the air and giving a penalty to South Africa which sealed the match and gave them an unassailable two match lead in the series. That's three actions and ten points in just 13 minutes. What was extra special was they say great occasions bring out great moments, and O'Gara's penalty for taking the man out in the air was the only recorded instance of him following up a kick he made in his entire career. Extraordinary stuff! Now tell me, honestly, whoever else has ever had more influence on a Test series? This is why we've crowned O'Gara the most influential British & Irish Lion of all time."
As of press time, Austin Healy was consulting lawyers to argue that his motivational sessions for Australia's Justin Harrison in 2001 should have earned him a top three spot in the list.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
The East Terrace (www.theeastterrace.com) offers an offside view of life in the rugby world
Huw Richards assesses where Wales are after a mixed Six Nations, with front row seats still very much available for the World Cup
John Mitchell lapped up the action on 'Sensational Saturday' - but warns not to expect a repeat come Rugby World Cup time later this year
Craig Dowd warns England, Ireland and Wales they should play to their strengths rather than those of the All Blacks and the Wallabies
Tom Hamilton runs the rule over just where the six countries stand ahead of the global gathering in September