'Biff was always on the cards'
Tom Hamilton in Brisbane
June 23, 2013
Tom Lawton won three Test caps against the Lions in 1989 © Getty Images
Rugby was always in Tom Lawton's blood. His grandfather - Tommy, who won 14 caps for the Wallabies - spoke to him and his brother about his passion for running out in the UK, with special emphasis on his experience of playing in Wales. For Lawton junior, the Lions encapsulated everything that rugby stood for - when we spoke he called them "the last real bastion of what cultural rugby is all about".
While the Lions have their own mantle of taking on the shirt from the tours before, the same element of nostalgia is found in the opposition. In 2013, Stephen Moore played at hooker in the first Test against the Lions, in 2001 the No.2 shirt was handed to Michael Foley. Lawton was given the jersey in 1989. And it was Lawton who handed out the shirts to the Wallabies ahead of the last Saturday's showdown.
Twenty-four years ago, Lawton was no stranger to the Lions. He had already played 11 Tests against the Home Nations by the time the tourists rocked up on Australasian shores. He turned out in one of the warm-up games, he captained the Queensland B side against the '89 vintage but his side crashed to a 30-6 defeat.
But come the first Test on, July 1, it was an altogether different matter. The Wallabies cruised to a 30-12 victory and it seemed the writing was on the wall for Finlay Calder's charges.
"It's a long time ago, but I remember it went as expected for us," Lawton told ESPN. "We had a pretty good team and we had some good young fellas coming through. We managed to surprise the Lions with regard to the quality of our attack. It's always tough for touring sides in Australia as the first decent game they usually get is in the first Test. A lot of the lead up games in 1989 were very easy for them.
"But for us, that first Test wasn't easy. I haven't watched the game for bloody years, all I can remember are bits and pieces from my memory. Everything worked for us, but the second and third were bloody tough that's for sure."
Lawton came up against Brian Moore in that first Test and also for the following two matches. Despite Moore's reputation as an outspoken pundit in modern times, Lawton found his opposite number a quiet adversary.
"Brian wasn't too vocal when I played against him. He was certainly a competitor and you need that sort of thing. He was an abrasive sort of player, but they were plenty like that. I enjoyed having beers with him after the games as he had a good sense of humour as well."
But there was nothing humorous about the second Test. The opening exchanges saw a mass brawl ensue after Rob Jones flung himself at Nick Farr-Jones. What prompted was 80 minutes of brutal rugby, it was a game Lawton believes "the Lions saw as their Waterloo".
"It was a little bit special as you don't see it very often," Lawton remembers of Farr-Jones' scrap with Jones. "When you look back on it, it was predictable the Lions would have to do something to put us off our game. They weren't going to let us play like we did in Sydney the week before. Putting on a biff was something that was on the cards.
"We understood, from a forward's perspective, that it was likely to happen. But I think it was more of a surprise for Nick and it seemed to work, it put him off his game. If you're serious about winning then you pull out all the stops to get it right. In retrospect, if it was us, we would have done the same."
The Lions took the match by 19-12 in a game now termed 'The Battle of Ballymore'. Come the third Test and the modern day perception of the game hinges around the moment David Campese opted to pass the ball to Greg Martin inside their own 22. The pass went to ground and Ieuan Evans dotted it down. But in reality, as Lawton remembers, there was more to the game than Campese's moment of madness.
"It wasn't what lost us the game, that's for sure. I think in retrospect the Lions turned the screws a bit more. And there's a lot to be said for being in a touring party. In those days we didn't meet for more than about three days before the Test. The guys were working and you went back to normal life between the Test matches."
They lost the series 2-1, but Lawton joined an illustrious band of brothers who had run out in Tests against the Lions. For him, it was right up there with what he achieved but looking back on 1989, he remembers harder matches against the Home Nations than what he experienced 24 years ago.
Brian Moore offloads during the infamous second Test © Getty Images
"I don't want to sound flippant about it, but sometimes it was harder to play against the individual teams," Lawton added. "I remember Scotland in 1984, they had a fantastic front-row and were very hard to play against. And even though the Lions had a few of those players in 1989, I think one of the things you lose in an amalgamated team like the Lions is the nuances of understanding your team-mates' way of playing. And unless you go on tour for a long time with the other players you tend not to get that until the end of the tour."
The 1989 crop of Wallabies will no doubt have had flashbacks when James Horwill led his team out onto the Brisbane turf last weekend. While they failed to beat the tourists, it is not something to be ashamed of. For Lawton, the third Test against the Lions would be the final time he ran out for the Wallabies in what was 41st appearance for the men in green and gold. But it is a memory he will share with his team-mates when they meet up for years to come and reminisce about the time they played Lions.
"I spoke at a lunch in Sydney a couple of weeks ago, before the game against the Reds," Lawton said. "John O'Shea, the ex-Lions prop, related a story that if the Lions had lost the series in 1989, then there would have been some serious considerations over whether they would continue or fold like the Barbarians. We were unaware of that at the time.
"It was a big deal to play against them. Talking to mates over the last few weeks with the Lions here, it is difficult to grasp how special it is to play against the Lions until years later."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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