Peter O’Mahony hoping to emulate Ronnie Dawson as a winner in Auckland

Irishman was the only captain to lead the Lions to victory over All Blacks at Eden Park

DB Clarke of the All Blacks arrives too late to stop British Lions’ fly-half Bev Risman scoring  the winning try at Auckland in  September 1959. Photo by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

DB Clarke of the All Blacks arrives too late to stop British Lions’ fly-half Bev Risman scoring the winning try at Auckland in September 1959. Photo by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

 

As far as omens go for the British & Irish Lions in their Test opener against the All Blacks this weekend, Warren Gatland could do no better than to pick Munster’s Peter O’Mahony as his captain.

Why?

Well the last time the Lions beat New Zealand in a Test at Eden Park, in fact the only time they have beaten them in Auckland, there was an Irishman at the helm. That was way back in 1959 when Ronnie Dawson was in charge of the Lions, but in six visits since then the tourists have drawn a blank.

British Lions captain Ronnie Dawson and All Blacks captain Wilson Whineray lead out their teams before the start of the first Test at at Dunedin, New Zealand in July 1959. Dawson carries a lion mascot. (Photograph: Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
British Lions captain Ronnie Dawson and All Blacks captain Wilson Whineray lead out their teams before the start of the first Test at at Dunedin, New Zealand in July 1959. Dawson carries a lion mascot. (Photograph: Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

O’Mahony is in line to lead the Lions after some barnstorming performances in New Zealand and because of an injury concern over tour skipper Sam Warburton. The last time the Lions were in New Zealand, in 2005, it was a Welshman, Gareth Thomas, who took over the test captaincy from an Irishman (Brian O’Driscoll) because of injury.

Whichever way you look at it, the Lions are going to be up against it in the first Test on Saturday. Defeats against the Blues and Highlanders have already put them on the back foot and last week’s 78-0 win by the All Blacks over Samoa in their warm-up match for the three-match series was their 37th in a row at the Auckland venue and 46th in a row at home.

You have to go back to France’s 23-20 win on July 3rd, 1994, for New Zealand’s last defeat at Eden Park. Their last home defeat was against the Springboks on September 2nd, 2009 in Hamilton, but you have to go even further back into the mists of time for their one and only loss at Eden Park to the Lions.

This weekend’s series opener against the back-to-back world champions will be the 11th between the two teams in Auckland and the 10th at Eden Park, and it is 58 years since the Lions won there.

Regular graveyard

In fact, that 9-6 fourth Test triumph in 1959 is the one and only Lions success in an international in Auckland. The great side of 1971 managed a 14-14 draw to take the series 2-1, but five other defeats have been by margins of 10 or more points.

Eden Park may be a regular graveyard of Lions hopes and dreams, but for the Irish survivors from that famous win on September 19th, 1959 – Dawson, Noel Murphy, Bill Mulcahy, David Hewitt and Tony O’Reilly – it is a venue that remains vivid in the memory. Like the rest of the other 10 survivors, they’re still dining out on that victory.

The ‘Class of 59’ really were a class act, the great entertainers. They averaged 4.52 tries per game in New Zealand with 113 and Tony O’Reilly picked up 17 of them in as many games. If only Warren Gatland’s side had a similar strike rate!

Irish winger Tony O’Reilly of the Lions fends off DJ Davison of the Junior All Blacks during a game on the 1959 tour in Wellington. (Photograph: Central Press/Getty Images)
Irish winger Tony O’Reilly of the Lions fends off DJ Davison of the Junior All Blacks during a game on the 1959 tour in Wellington. (Photograph: Central Press/Getty Images)

The great England wing Peter Jackson scored the first Lions try to make it 3-3 at half-time before the the greatest try-scorer in Lions history, Irish star O’Reilly, scored his sixth and final Test try for the Lions. Bev Risman then broke through on the blindside of a scrum to make it 9-6 with a third try.

DB Clarke, who had notched 39 points in the series to date, then had one final kick at goal to try to level the scores. He missed to prove that even he was human.

The crowds flocked to watch the Lions with 801,750 fans attending their games and delivering a £200,000 profit for the New Zealand Rugby Union. That’s worth about £4.3m today!

There were 60,000 people packed into Eden Park to watch the 25th game the Lions had played in New Zealand after six matches in Australia. And they still had two games to go on the way home in Canada!

The whole of New Zealand will be amassing once again on Saturday to back the All Blacks against the Lions. New Zealand have won 12 of the last 14 Tests against the tourists.

New Zealand v Lions in Auckland

1908: New Zealand 29, Lions 0 (Potter’s Park)

1930: New Zealand 15, Lions 10 (Eden Park)

1950: New Zealand 11, Lions 8 (Eden Park)

1959: New Zealand 6, Lions 9 (Eden Park)

1966: New Zealand 24, Lions 11 (Eden Park)

1971: New Zealand 14, Lions 14 (Eden Park)

1977: New Zealand 10, Lions 9 (Eden Park)

1983: New Zealand 38, Lions 6 (Eden Park)

1993: New Zealand 30, Lions 13 (Eden Park)

2005: New Zealand 38, Lions 19 (Eden Park)

The last Lions team to win an international at Eden Park in 1959:

British & Irish Lions: Terry Davies (Wales); Peter Jackson (England), Dave Hewitt (Ireland), Ken Scotland (Scotland), Tony O’Reilly (Ireland); Bev Risman (England), Andy Mulligan (Ireland); Hugh McLeod (Scotland), Ronnie Dawson (Ireland, captain), Ray Prosser (Wales), Rhys Williams (Wales), Bill Mulcahy (Ireland), Noel Murphy (Ireland), Haydn Morgan (Wales), John Faull (Wales)

Players in bold are still alive.

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