Deciding factor: When a Lions tour hinged on the third Test

Only five times in modern British & Irish Lions history has it gone down to a third and final decider

 

Only five times in the modern era have Test series involving the British & Irish Lions gone down to a third and final decider. Even when four-Test series were the norm, prior to 1989 the previous time matters were still undecided going into the last match had been in 1971, when the Lions secured a 14-all draw in Eden Park on the fourth Test of a tour which lasted over three months to seal a 2-1 series win.

The Lions dressingroom after victory over Australia in the third Test in Sydney in 1989. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
The Lions dressingroom after victory over Australia in the third Test in Sydney in 1989. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Third Test, July 15th, 1989

Australia 18 British & Irish Lions 19

The first Lions tour to Australia since 1971, and first without a New Zealand leg since 1889, had been questioned as the hosts didn’t possess the depth and quality of their southern hemisphere rivals, as evidenced by a reduced 12-match tour.

This was despite the Wallabies’ thrilling Grand Slam tour of 1984, Mark Ella et al. Although the Lions cruised through the warm-up matches, such thoughts were quickly dispelled by a 30-12 hammering in the first Test to an Australia side featuring David Campese, Nick Farr-Jones and Michael Lynagh. It was the Lions’ 11th defeat in 13 Tests. The “brand” had arguably reached an all-tome low.

Only four Irish players were picked in the 32-man squad and one of them, Paul Dean, was injured early on. Brendan Mullin played in the first Test but was one of five players dropped by Ian McGeechan for the second.

Donal Lenihan captained the midweek side, aka Donal’s Donuts, and three days after the first Test the Lions trailed ACT 21-11 at half-time. But, after winning 41-25, they were applauded into the dressingroom by the rest of the squad and the Lions – captained by Finlay Calder and with Mike Teague adding his abrasive edge – won a violent second Test, aka the Battle of Ballymore, 19-12.

In the fallout, Farr-Jones observed: “To me, basically, it’s open warfare. They’ve set the rules. They’ve set the standards. As far as I’m concerned, if the officials aren’t going to control it, we’re going to have to do something about it.”

But it proved an epic, and comparatively peaceful, finale.

The Wallabies led 12-9 early in the second half when Rob Andrew’s attempted drop goal drifted wide. Campese caught the ball but, rather than touch it down, played a pass behind fullback Greg Martin, which he dropped one-handed for Ieuan Evans to dive on the loose ball. Despite two more Lynagh penalties, the Lions were never headed again.

Co-commentator Chris Handy set the tone for Campese’s ensuing persecution: “You don’t wear a green and gold jersey to pull out that sort of Mickey Mouse rugby.”

The Wallabies, with Campese providing the X-factor, would win the World Cup two years later.

AUSTRALIA: Greg Martin; Ian Williams (T), Dominic Maguire, Lloyd Walker, David Campese; Michael Lynagh (C, 4P), Nick Farr-Jones (capt); Mark Hartill, Tom Lawton, Dan Crowley; Bill Campbell, Steve Cutler; Scott Gourley, Jeff Miller, Steve Tuynman.

Replacements: Leigh Donnellan, Mack McBain, Tim Gavin, Peter Slattery, Tim Horan, Acura Niuqila.

BRITISH & IRISH LIONS: Gavin Hastings (5P); Ieuan Evans (T), Scott Hastings, Jerry Guscott, Rory Underwood; Rob Andrew, Robert Jones; David Sole, Brian Moore, Dai Young; Paul Ackford, Wade Dooley; Mike Teague, Finlay Calder (capt), Dean Richards.

Replacements: Steve Smith, Mike Griffiths, Derek White, Gary Armstrong, Craig Chalmers, John Devereux.

Referee: Rene Hourquet (France)

Attendance: 39,401

New Zealand’s Jon Preston scores a try during the third Test against the Lions at Eden Park in Auckland in 1993. Photograph: Bruce Jarvis/Inpho/Photosport
New Zealand’s Jon Preston scores a try during the third Test against the Lions at Eden Park in Auckland in 1993. Photograph: Bruce Jarvis/Inpho/Photosport

Third Test, July 3rd, 1993

New Zealand 30 British & Irish Lions 13

Nick Popplewell and Mick Galwey were the only two Irish players in a 30-man squad featuring 16 English players, even though Ireland had won the Five Nations game between the sides 17-3 on the last day of the Championship at Lansdowne Road, although Vinny Cunningham and Richard Wallace were called out as replacements. Ian McGeechan chose Gavin Hastings as captain ahead of Will Carling, who’d captained England to Grand Slams in ’91 and ’92.

The All Blacks were in a rare state of vulnerability, with their next wave of talent still to come through. They won a controversial first Test in Christchurch 20-18 when Australian referee Brian Kinsey awarded Frank Bunce an early try even though Ieuan Evans maintained he had “both hands on the ball” and a contentious last-minute penalty which Grant Fox kicked.

Popplewell was called up to an otherwise all-English pack, and the Lions dominated up front in the second Test in a 20-7 win which was the tour’s standout performance.

However, the disaffected dirt-trackers had been virtually left to their own devices and suffered a third successive defeat when beaten 38-10 by a Waikato side featuring Warren Gatland on the Tuesday before the series decider.

As Hastings admitted: “At the end of the tour, there were two distinct parties.”

Meanwhile, the All Blacks called up Andy Haden to overhaul their lineout, with the agile Ian Jones recalled to the starting team and the more powerful Arran Pene preferred to Zinzan Brooke at number eight. They also stopped kicking to touch.

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A Scott Gibbs try helped the Lions into an early 10-0 lead but thereafter the tourists were chasing shadows as the All Blacks pulled clear with tries by scrumhalf Jon Preston, Sean Fitzpatrick and Bunce, plus 15 points from Fox.

NEW ZEALAND: John Timu; John Kirwan, Frank Bunce (T), Lee Stensness, Inga Tuigamala; Grant Fox (3P, 3C), Jon Preston (T); Craig Dowd, Sean Fitzpatrick (capt)(T), Olo Brown; Robin Brooke, Ian Jones; Jamie Joseph, Michael Jones, Arran Pene.

Bench: Mark Cooksley, Zinzan Brooke, Matthew Cooper, Ant Strachan, Graham Dowd, Bull Allen.

BRITISH & IRISH LIONS: Gavin Hastings (capt)(2P, C); Ieuan Evans, Scott Gibbs (T), Jerry Guscott, Rory Underwood; Rob Andrew, Dewi Morris; Nick Popplewell, Brian Moore, Jason Leonard; Martin Johnson, Martin Bayfield; Ben Clarke, Peter Winterbottom, Dean Richards.

Bench: Tony Clement, Will Carling, Robert Jones, Paul Burnell, Kenny Milne, Mike Teague.

Referee: Patrick Robin (France)

Attendance: 47,000

Brian O’Driscoll applauds the crowd after the third Test against Australia in Sydney in 2001. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Brian O’Driscoll applauds the crowd after the third Test against Australia in Sydney in 2001. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Third Test, July 14th, 2001

Australia 29 British & Irish Lions 23

Graham Henry, then coach of Wales, was a slightly controversial choice as the first non-British or Irish head coach. But, having captained the Lions to their series win in South Africa four years before, Martin Johnson pretty much picked himself in becoming the first player to captain the Lions twice.

Six Irish players were named in the original 38-man squad, namely Rob Henderson, Brian O’Driscoll, Keith Wood (all of whom started the three Tests), Ronan O’Gara, Jeremy Davidson and Malcolm O’Kelly (an early departure), while David Wallace and Tyrone Howe were subsequently called up.

The Wallabies had just won a second World Cup since the Lions had last visited Australia, while rancour and disaffection with the two-tiered nature of the squad and the training regime manifested in player diaries, with the aloof Henry later admitting he made mistakes.

Yet the Lions stunned the Wallabies in the opening Test at the Gabba, winning 29-13 with tries by Jason Robinson, Dafydd James, O’Driscoll and Scott Quinnell. The Lions army had made it like a home match and, after his stunning try from halfway, they serenaded O’Driscoll for the remainder of the tour.

The second Test, and the series, pivoted on two moments. With the Lions leading 11-3 after half an hour, Nathan Grey put Richard Hill out of the series with a high shot and leading 11-6 early in the second half, Jonny Wilkinson’s pass was picked off by Joe Roff to bring the sides level before Australia pulled away to win 35-14.

The Lions rallied in a thrilling final Test in Stadium Australia, where the huge Lions contingent among 84,188 fans were stationed mostly in the darkened upper tiers. The lead changed hands four times and was level going into the last quarter. Two Matt Burke penalties made it 29-23 before the Lions went to the corner with the clock in the red.

Whereupon Justin Harrison, the Wallabies lock described as “an ape, a plank and a plod” by Austin Healy in his diary for the Guardian, beat Johnson to the throw.

AUSTRALIA: M Burke (5P, 2C); A Walker, D Herbert (2T), N Grey, J Roff; E Flatley, G Gregan; N Stiles, M Foley, R Moore; J Harrison, J Eales (capt), O Finegan, T Kefu, G Smith.

Replacements used: M Cockbain for Finegan (76 mins), J Holbeck for Grey (79 mins). Replacements not used: B Cannon, B Darwin, D Lyons, C Whitaker, C Latham.

LIONS: M Perry; A Healey, B O’Driscoll, R Henderson, J Robinson (T); J Wilkinson (T, 3P, 2C), M Dawson; T Smith, K Wood, P Vickery; M Johnson (capt), D Grewcock (England); M Corry, S Quinnell , N Back .

Replacements used: C Charvis for Quinnell (half-time), I Balshaw for James (74 mins), D Morris for Smith (74 mins). Replacements not used: M Williams , R O’Gara, M Taylor.

Referee: Paddy O’Brien (New Zealand).

Mike Phillips, Jonathan Sexon and Tommy Bowe celebrate after the third Test against Australia in Sydney in 2013. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Mike Phillips, Jonathan Sexon and Tommy Bowe celebrate after the third Test against Australia in Sydney in 2013. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Third Test, July 6th, 2013

Australia 16 British & Irish Lions 41

Gatland, who had been one of Ian McGeechan’s assistants in ’09, was made head coach for the first time in an attempt to arrest the Lions’ run of three series defeats in a row – winning two out of nine matches, of which one was a dead rubber.

Despite having both of the previous tour captains, Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell, in his squad, Gatland made Sam Warburton the Lions’ youngest-ever captain at 24. Rory Best would soon bring the Irish contingent to 10 when replacing a suspended Dylan Hartley, and Simon Zebo would later be called up.

The opening two Tests had both gone to the last kick, the Lions winning the first in Brisbane when Kurtley Beale slipped in attempting a long-range penalty, but then lost the second 16-15 in Melbourne to a Wallabies side fighting desperately to keep the series alive when Leigh Halfpenny’s long-range penalty fell just short.

Cue the third and Gatland made six changes, dropping O’Driscoll and with Warburton and O’Connell, handed the captaincy of a Welsh-infused side to Alun Wyn Jones, who’d only captained Wales once before and four years previously.

Alex Corbisiero, called up as a late replacement for Cian Healy and one of the six changes, fittingly set the ball rolling with the first try and then so destroyed poor Ben Alexander at scrum-time that the Wallabies tighthead was binned in the 24th minute and never reappeared.

Seán O’Brien, another of the six changes, had a huge game and the masterful Johnny Sexton rounded off the killer try to break the Wallabies’ resistance before George North and Jamie Roberts tries added the gloss.

AUSTRALIA: Kurtley Beale; Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper , Christian Leali’ifano (3P, C), Joe Tomane; James O’Connor (T), Will Genia; Benn Robinson , Stephen Moore, Ben Alexander; Kane Douglas, James Horwill (capt); Ben Mowen , George Smith, Wycliff Palu.

Replacements: Michael Hooper for Smith (5-10 and 66 mins), Jesse Mogg for Folau (26 mins), Sekope Kepu for Smith (27-35 and for Alexander 35 mins), Saia Fainga’a for Moore (55-60 and 72 mins), Ben McCalman for Palu (60 mins), Rob Simmons for Douglas (62 mins), James Slipper for Robinson (66 mins), Nick Phipps for Genia (70 mins).

BRITISH & IRISH LIONS: Leigh Halfpenny (5P, 3C); Tommy Bowe, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts (T), George North (T); Jonathan Sexton (T), Mike Phillips; Alex Corbisiero (T) , Richard Hibbard, Adam Jones; Alun-Wyn Jones (capt), Geoff Parling; Dan Lydiate, Seán O’Brien, Toby Faletau.

Replacements: Tom Youngs for Hibbard (47 mins), Conor Murray for Phillips (51 mins), Dan Cole for A Jones (55 mins), Justin Tipuric for Faletau (55-60 mins) and for O’Brien (60 mins), Owen Farrell for Sexton (63 mins), Makovina Vunipola for Corbisiero, Richie Gray for Parling (both 68 mins), Manu Tuilagi for Roberts (70 mins).

Referee: Romain Poite (France).

Owen Farrell celebrates kicking the penalty to level the match against New Zealand during the third Test at Eden Park in Auckland in 2017. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Owen Farrell celebrates kicking the penalty to level the match against New Zealand during the third Test at Eden Park in Auckland in 2017. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Third Test, July 8th, 2017

New Zealand 15 British & Irish Lions 15

Gatland re-inserted Warburton as captain of a 41-man squad featuring 11 Irish players. The daunting 10-match tour featured five games against New Zealand’s franchises, the Maori All Blacks and the back-to-back world champions, with the Lions pilloried and Gatland persistently discredited and mocked by some of his native media.

Impressive wins over the Crusaders and the Maoris raised expectations for the first Test. But the All Blacks generated huge momentum with their one-off runners and despite one of the Lions’ tries for the ages, instigated by Liam Williams and finished by O’Brien, New Zealand won 30-15.

A week later, in Wellington, referee Jérôme Garcès kept his nerve when brandishing a red card in front of Sonny Bill Williams for a dangerous high hit on Anthony Watson. SBW became only the third All Black to be sent off, and the first in New Zealand.

Beauden Barrett missed three of his 10 penalties at goal and brilliant second-half tries by Taulupe Faletau and Conor Murray secured a first win in NZ since 1993, ending the All Blacks’ 47-match home winning streak dating back to 2009.

Back in Eden Park, the Lions never led a nail-biting final Test, and trailed 12-6 at half-time to tries by Ngani Laumape and Jordan Barrett. But they stayed in the fight, and long-range penalties by Elliot Daly and the nerveless Farrell levelled the sides entering the last two minutes.

Kieran Read, possibly in front of the ball, chased Beauden Barrett’s restart and challenged Liam Williams, possibly hitting him in the air. The ball deflected off Williams’s hand laterally or slightly forward. Poite initially signalled a penalty against Ken Owens for playing the ball from an offside position, but on review Poite decreed it was accidental and ordered a scrum.

Two plays later, to a mixture of bewilderment and belated pride, the Lions had drawn a series for the first time since the 2-2 series with Springboks in 1955.

NEW ZEALAND: Jordan Barrett (T); Israel Dagg, Anton Lienert-Brown , Ngane Laumape (T), Julien Savea; Beauden Barrett (P, C), Aaron Smith; Joe Moody , Codie Taylor, Owen Franks ; Brodie Retallick, Samuel Whitelock; Jerome Kaino, Sam Cane , Kieran Read (capt).

Replacements: Wyatt Crockett for Moody, Charlie Faumuina for Franks (both 58 mins), Ardie Savea for Cane (60 mins), Malakai Fekitoa for Laumape (67 mins), Nathan Harris for Taylor, TJ Perenara for A Smith, Aaron Cruden for J Savea (all 74 mins), Scott Barrett for Whitelock (78 mins). Sinbinned: Kaino (50-60 mins).

BRITISH & IRISH LIONS: Liam Williams; Anthony Watson, Jonathan Davies , Owen Farrell (4P) , Elliot Daly (P); Johnny Sexton , Conor Murray ; Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Tadhg Furlong; Maro Itoje, Alun Wyn Jones; Sam Warburton (capt), Seán O’Brien , Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements: CJ Stander for O’Brien (half-time), Ben Te’o for Sexton (50-55 and 73 mins), Courtney Lawes for Jones (50 mins), Jack McGrath for Vunipola, Kyle Sinckler for Furlong (both 60 mins), Jones for Warburton (67-73 mins), Ken Owens for George, Rhys Webb (both 70 mins), Jack Nowell for Watson (74 mins).

Referee: Romain Poite (France).

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