In the three tours since the last Lions Test series win the Lions have won just two Test matches, ahead of the first Test of the fourth tour since that magnificent 1997 series victory, I take a look back at some of my best and worst Lions memories since that tour.
Top Five Lions Memories 2001-2009
6. Gareth Thomas v New Zealand â€“ 2nd Test 2005
Sometimes it is easy to forget just how much hope and celebration there was when Gareth Thomas game the Lions the lead in that 2nd Test after less than two minutes, such was the humiliation that Dan Carter put the Lions under for the final three quarters of the game. Thomasâ€™ try was a truly special Lions moment though and at the time seemed like it could be a catalyst for a remarkable turnaround after defeat the week before.
5. Mike Phillips v South Africa â€“ 1st Test 2009
Ultimately the Lions lost this game, a torrid opening twenty minutes proving too much for them to overcome. They fought valiantly though and when Mike Phillips scored and Stephen Jones converted to make it 26-21 with just a few minutes left the comeback seemed genuinely possible. It proved to be just too much for them but Phillipsâ€™ fist pumping celebration on one knee will live long in the memory.
4. Ugo Monye v South Africa â€“ 3rd Test 2009
Two nil down and with the series lost you would have though the Lions had nothing to play for but Sir Ian McGeechan and his disciples thought otherwise. They gave one of the best attacking Lions displays in recent memory with Ugo Monyeâ€™s 80 metre intercepted try capping a marvellous 28-9 victory. Seeing Shaun Edwards dancing his way down the touchline as Monye scorched away is now one of the iconic Lions moments.
3. Rob Kearney v South Africa â€“ 2nd Test 2009
When Rob Kearney blazed over early in the first half of this game it was the moment that Lions fans began to believe that their team could just do it. Kearney had come on in the first Test for the injured Lee Byrne and immediately set about giving a masterclass in full back play, something he then did again for the following two weeks. That the Lions went on to lose this game, and therefore the series, should take nothing away from what was one of the most inspiring games of rugby that the Lions have been involved in.
2. Jason Robinson v Australia â€“ 1st Test 2001
Has any Lions Test match ever started in such stunning fashion? Just two minutes were on the clock when Jason Robinson danced around Chris Latham to score for the Lions. At the time Robsinson had never started a match for England, while Latham was one of the best full backs in the world and a defensive rock. Robinson cared little for reputation though (in fact he has since admitted he did not even know who Latham was at the time!) and with just three metres of space he stood the Wallaby up and breezed past him to score one of the most spectacular tries the Lions have seen.
1.Â Â Â Brian Oâ€™Driscoll v Australia â€“ 1st Test 2001
The moment that Brian Oâ€™Driscoll announced himself to the rugby world. In Britain and Ireland we had known about him for a while, that magnificent hat-trick against France being his first big moment, however he was still not huge news globally. Good performances on tour saw the Aussies take note but this try was beyond anything that they could have expected. Oâ€™Driscoll blasted through the heart of the Wallaby defence on the halfway line before dancing around Matt Burke to slide in under the posts. To this day it remains the Irishmanâ€™s greatest moment in a red shirt, which only goes to show just how good it was. With choruses of â€˜Waltzing Oâ€™Driscollâ€™ ringing out every four years since, it is a moment that no Lions fan will ever forget. That whole night at the Gabba remains one of the most iconic Lions events.
Worst Five Lions Memories 2001-2009
6. Dan Carter, New Zealand â€“ 2nd Test 2005
To this day Dan Carterâ€™s performance in this match remains the most complete performance I have ever seen from a fly half. It is harsh to say that this is one of my worst Lions memories, after all it is about Carterâ€™s brilliance, however it can hardly be classed as one of the best either! Carter played to a level that no other player on that pitch could have got close to, not even Richie McCaw. When you consider that for 20 minutes the Lions looked as though they could ambush the All Blacks it only makes it more specialâ€¦and traumatising.
5. Justin Harrison, Australia â€“ 3rd Test 2001
When Justin Harrison snatched that lineout from Martin Johnson in the final minute of the 2001 series it effectively signalled defeat for the Lions in a series that they could so easily have won. That it was Harrison, who had effectively become the pantomime villain for the Lions (following his altercations with Austin Healey) only made it more galling.
4. Schalk Burger, South Africa â€“ 2nd Test 2009
The game was just seconds old when Schalk Burger got caught gouging the eyes of Lions wing Luke Fitzgerald. That the touch judge saw it yet he and the referee decided that a yellow card was sufficient punishment is unfathomable to this day. Had Burger seen the red card that he most definitely deserved it could have changed the series. The officials bottled it, Burger got away with a disgusting act, it still hurts. Thankfully Luke Fitzgerald was ok, while the Lions managed to remain impressively dignified, something that some of us watching may find harder to say.
3. Tana Umaga & Kevin Mealamu, New Zealand â€“ 1st Test 2005
Another sickening act of violence, the Test series was just a minute old when Umaga and Mealamu decided to spear tackle Brian Oâ€™Driscoll off the ball, ending the captainâ€™s Test series almost before it had begun. What made it all the more sickening was their protests of innocence after the match and accusations that the Lions were trying to make something out of nothing. Cheapened the image of one of the greats players of the era in Umaga.
2.Â Â Â Jonny Wilkinson & Joe Roff, Australia â€“ 2nd Test 2001
Perhaps the momentum in this series had already begun to swing in this series when the Wallabies scored a couple of late consolation tries at the end of the first Test, perhaps not. What is surely certain though is that when Jonny Wilkinson had his pass intercepted for Joe Roff to score the momentum swung well and truly to the Australian side. A heart breaking moment.
1. Morne Steyn, South Africa â€“ 2nd Test 2009
The most gut-wrenching moment of rugby that I can remember. The Lions had turned in one of the most stunning and intense performances imaginable and the South Africans could barely live with them. Unfortunately injuries took their toll though, with Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones going off, leaving the scrum (one of their biggest weapons that day) uncontested. The magical centre pairing of Brian Oâ€™Driscoll and Jamie Roberts soon followed leaving a 10, 12, 13 combination without a recognisable centre among their number. The South Africans clawed their way back into it and took the lead but a Stephen Jones penalty levelled it for the Lions before disaster struck. A heavily concussed Ronan Oâ€™Gara hoofed the ball up to the halfway line, admirably he chased up his own kick but calamitously he took Fourie Du Preez out in the air, giving South Africa a penalty. Morne Steyn had barely put a foot wrong all day and he duly smashed it over to give South Africa, the lead, the win and the series.
There are some huge moments left out, such as Scott Quinnellâ€™s iconic nodding try celebration after scoring the Lions 4th(!) try at the Gabba in 2001, and Nathan Greyâ€™s cynical elbow to Richard Hillâ€™s face in that same game, leaving the flanker out of the series and perhaps doing as much damage to the Lions chances in the rest of the series as anything else.
Those are my best and worst Lions moments though since the last time the won a Test series, I would love to hear what you think of them and also what your own good and bad Lions memories are â€“ just leave your comments below, or get in touch via Twitter and Facebook.
By Angus Savage
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