The Lion tamers
June 10, 2009
Public Enemy No.1: Australian referee Brian Kinsey failed to endear himself to Lions supporters in 1993 © Getty Images
The history of the British & Irish Lions is a chequered one, with their victories celebrated continually and their failures all too often forgotten. In 1993, 2001 and 2005 the Lions suffered defeats that have lingered and caused continual pain for fans and players alike.
Every winning Lions tour has a hero - just as the losing ones have their villains. Here we take a look back at some of the Lions' great tormentors.
Matt Burke - Australia 2001
Graham Henry's reign as Lions coach was one that brought the concept kicking and screaming in to the professional era. Gone were the efforts to experience the culture and sporting life of the host nation - in their place the players found myriad extra training sessions and a Big Brother style attitude from the coaching staff.
On field, all began well when Brian O'Driscoll, Dafydd James, Scott Quinnell and Jason Robinson powered the tourists to a 29-13 win over the Wallabies at the Wooloongabba. On the bench that day was World Cup-winning fullback Matt Burke - who would not be a fringe concern for Martin Johnson & Co. for much longer.
After being restored to the side in place of Chris Latham for the second Test in Melbourne, the ever-dependable Burke helped himself to a try, six penalties and a conversion in a haul of 25 points. The Lions were defeated 35-14 and Burke wasn't finished yet. In the decisive third Test at Stadium Australia Burke weighed in with 19 of the Wallabies 26 points, defeating the Lions 29-23.
Justin Harrison - Australia 2001
In one of the all-time great 'it had to be him' moments, Brumbies lock Justin Harrison had the last laugh as his pinched lineout in the third Test signalled the end for the Lions' hopes in the dying seconds. Harrison had been involved in a running spat with Lions utility back Austin Healey - who labelled the second-rower "a plod", "an ape" and "the plank" in a newspaper column, but crucially made his most telling contributions alongside the great John Eales in the Australian engine-room.
Harrison and Healey had first become acquainted during the Lions' tour win over the Brumbies, but as Harrison made his international debut against the Lions, the first of 34 international caps, Healey's taunts came back to haunt him. In his Guardian column Healey wrote, "I thought it was that flanker Peter Ryan who clouted me, but, no, there it is on video, my old pal, the plod from the second row. And what do you know, he's in the team to face us. Me and the plank. Do you think one of us will have the final say? I'll say so." Yeah, about that Austin…
Moaner van Heerden - South Africa 1974
In 1974 the Lions reigned supreme, but were still involved in some of their most aggressive and violent matches. The "99" call, a shortened version of the number for the emergency services, was devised as a means of countering the cheap shots incurred during the tour games.
During the third Test, christened "the battle of Boet Erasmus", Welsh fullback JPR Williams entered Lions folklore by sprinting the length of the field to wallop Springbok lock Moaner van Heerden. Williams has since expressed his regret for the incident - but van Heerden will always be associated with the Lions' most controversial tactic.
"Funnily enough, I bumped into him on a train from London to Cardiff last year and he asked 'do you remember me?' I had to admit that I didn't and he just said that he had played against me in South Africa in 1974," Williams later said in The Guardian. "We had a lovely chat. When I got home I looked in the match programme and saw that it was the guy I had punched - and he never mentioned it during the whole time we were talking on the train. What a gentleman!"
Tana Umaga - New Zealand 2005
Inspirational New Zealand skipper Umaga enjoyed a mixed time against the Lions, with his on-field heroics mirrored by a scrap with the authorities after he and hooker Keven Mealamu spear-tackled Lions skipper Brian O'Driscoll out of the series after only seconds of the first Test in Christchurch.
In one of the most oft-replayed moments in recent rugby history Umaga was caught bang to rights, and the incident was pored over by the fastidious Lions coach Sir Clive Woodward and his army of analysts. Many blamed Umaga for the Lions losing the tour - which may well be true, but more for the three tries that he scored during the Tests than for his rash intervention at Jade Stadium.
Lions great JPR was also quickly drawn on this matter after it was compared to the stamp he suffered at the hands of All Black prop John Ashworth. "It's a pity because I have great admiration for them as a rugby nation but their tendency to brush dirty things under the carpet tarnishes their image in my eyes, it's a bad characteristic," he said.
Dan Carter - New Zealand 2005
From mixed fortunes to sublime. Dan Carter's star was rising as the Lions set down on New Zealand soil, and while his skipper was drawn in to controversy - he tore the Lions apart. Facing the oft-lauded, but half-fit, Jonny Wilkinson Carter was unstoppable. In a rain-soaked first Test he landed 11 points as the Lions were swatted aside 21-3, but far more was to come as the Test series moved to Wellington.
Lions skipper Gareth Thomas scored an early try for the tourists, restoring hope after the damp-squib first Test. Their optimism didn't last as in one of the great performances in recent memory Carter took off, scoring two tries, four conversions and five penalties in a personal haul of 33 points. The All Blacks won the game 48-18 and wrapped up the series, Carter then taking a back seat as Luke McAlister took the No.10 jersey in the third Test.
Grant Fox…with a little help from Brian Kinsey - New Zealand 1993
The 1993 Lions, coached by Ian McGeechan and captained by the kicking hero of the 1989 series win over Australia, Gavin Hastings, lost the Test series 2-1 after being tipped as the first touring side capable of repeating the feats of their 1971 counterparts.
In the first Test at Christchurch, the Lions were ahead 18-17 with seconds remaining. Australian referee Brian Kinsey had already failed to ingratiate himself with the tourists after awarding a controversial early try to All Black centre Frank Bunce, but his final whistle blast spelled the end for the tourists' opening assault. Dean Richards was the man penalised after turning the ball over among a forest of New Zealand arms. Dewi Morris, the Lions scrum-half, fixed Kinsey with a stare that would sour milk, but their anger didn't stop Grant Fox from stroking over the penalty for a 20-18 victory. The Lions won the second Test but failed in the third - a classic case of what could have been.
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