As Warren Gatland’s announcement of the team for the first test against Australia this weekend edges ever nearer, we thought it would be interesting to look at the teams that have been picked on past tours for that all-important first test.
1997 tour to South Africa – won 25-16
15. Neil Jenkins 14. Ieuan Evans 13. Scott Gibbs 12. Jeremy Guscott 11. Alan Tait 10. Gregor Townsend 9. Matt Dawson 1. Tom Smith 2. Keith Wood 3. Paul Wallace 4. Martin Johnson (capt) 5. Jeremy Davidson 6. Lawrence Dallaglio 7. Richard Hill 8. Tim Rodber
Tries from Matt Dawson and Alan Tait, along with five penalties from Neil Jenkins, were enough to see the Lions to an historic opening victory over the South Africans. It was a win that laid the foundations for the tourists to win a tour no-one had given then a hope for, and stands to this day as the last successful Lions tour.
2001 tour to Australia – won 29-13
15. Matt Perry 14. Dafydd James 13. Rob Henderson 12. Brian O’Driscoll 11. Jason Robinson 10. Jonny Wilkinson 9. Rob Howley 1. Tom Smith 2. Keith Wood 3. Phil Vickery 4. Martin Johnson 5. Danny Grewcock 6. Martin Corry 7. Richard Hill 8. Scott Quinnell
The game that announced O’Driscoll to the wider world, it was to be a false dawn as the Lions ended up losing the series 2-1. Tries from Robinson, BOD, Quinnell and James were enough for victory here.
2005 tour to New Zealand – lost 21-3
15. Jason Robinson 14. Josh Lewsey 13. Brian O’Driscoll (capt) 12. Jonny Wilkinson 11. Gareth Thomas 10. Stephen Jones 9. Dwayne Peel 1. Gethin Jenkins 2. Shane Byrne 3. Julian White 4. Paul O’Connell 5. Ben Kay 6. Richard Hill 7. Neil Back 8. Martin Corry
Sadly this game was a sign of things to come, as the Lions crashed to a 3-0 series whitewash. The opening test will forever be remembered for the spear tackle on tour captain Brian O’Driscoll that kept him out of the rest of the tour.
2009 tour to South Africa – lost 26-21
15. Lee Byrne 14. Tommy Bowe 13. Brian O’Driscoll 12. Jamie Roberts 11. Ugo Monye 10. Stephen Jones 9. Mike Phillips 1. Gethin Jenkins 2. Lee Mears 3. Phil Vickery 4. Alun Wyn Jones 5. Paul O’Connell (capt) 6. Tom Croft 7. David Wallace 8. Jamie Heaslip
Two converted tries from Tom Croft and one from Mike Phillips was enough to make this a devilishly close affair, and in the end the boot of Ruan Pienaar was what separated the teams. There is the potential for seven of the above players to be named in the team to take on Australia on Saturday.
So where does the current crop, and likely starting XV for tomorrow, rank amongst the above teams? Will they be able to emulate the heroics of the 1997 group, or suffer the ignominy of the 2005 whitewash?