The British & Irish Lions are one of the most historic rugby teams in the world, having first played as a team in 1888. They have a long, rich history with many interesting stories on how the team was created.
Why are they called the Lions? The name was first used on the 1924 South African tour, being named after the Lion emblem that featured on their ties and jerseys. The Lions became the team’s nickname, until 1950 when it was recognised as the team’s official name. It was from 2001 onwards that the team was known as the British and Irish Lions.
The British and Irish Lions was actually first known as the Shaw and Shrewsbury team and it first played in 1888. The original team was first made up of mainly English players, with a few Scottish and Welsh players.
The team was initially known as the British Isles throughout the early 1900s. On the 1924 tour of South Africa, journalists coined the nickname The Lions due to the emblems on the player’s ties. The name eventually stuck and was officially recognised in 1950. It was from 2001 onwards that the team was known as the British and Irish Lions.
This likely also has an English influence in it. England have often used the Lion in badges in their sport, with the English football team being known as the Three Lions. The name stuck after the team continued to tour and has stuck ever since.
Who is the Lions coach?
Warren Gatland was the most recent coach of the British and Irish Lions. The New Zealand-born Gatland began his career with provincial side Waikato where he would play 140 times for the team as well as playing 17 times for his country as a Hooker.
Gatland would go into coaching not long after his playing career finished, starting in the All-Ireland League Division 2. Gatland would return to New Zealand as assistant coach of Thames Valley before moving to Ireland to become director of rugby at Connacht. Gatland impressed so much at Connacht that he got the Ireland job in 1998.
Gatland did well with Ireland, improving the team after poor performances in the years leading up to Gatland being appointed. During his tenure, Gatland led Ireland to their first win over France in Paris since 1972 thanks to a hat-trick from Brian O’Driscoll. He only lost the 2001 Six Nations championship on points difference.
Despite a mixed time with Ireland, Gatland joined the coaching staff of London Wasps and led the team to one of their most dominant spells in the history of Premiership Rugby. Wasps won the league three years in a row as well as winning the Heineken Cup and the European Challenge Cup.
Gatland’s rise to one of the best coaches in the world began when he was appointed Wales head coach, where he was the head coach for 12 years and it included some great success. Under Gatland Wales won three Grand Slam titles as well as reaching the World Cup semi-finals in 2011 and 2019.
This brilliant success with Wales meant that Gatland would coach the British and Irish Lions for the first time in 2013, having been an assistant coach for the 2009 tour of South Africa.
His 2013 tour of Australia was a very successful one for the Lions as they won 2-1 although there were some criticisms of the Welsh dominance in the Lions team.
Despite this, Gatland would again be the coach of the British and Irish Lions in 2017 for the tour of New Zealand. The Lions would again be heavily influenced by the Welsh team and was heavily criticised for being a Kiwi in charge of the British and Irish Lions who were touring his home country.
A drawn series in 2017 led to Gatland being retained for the 2021 tour of South Africa which the home side won 2-1. Gatland’s smart tactical decisions and strong leadership are the reasons he was put in as Lions coach. It is unlikely that Gatland will be Lion’s head coach when they tour Australia in 2025 as he is no longer the Welsh head coach.
Have the Lions won a series in New Zealand?
Touring New Zealand is an incredibly difficult job, even if Ireland made it look pretty easy in 2022. It is so difficult that in the 12 times that the British and Irish Lions have toured New Zealand, they have only won the series once which was in 1971.
1971 was the first time that the British and Irish Lions pretty much exclusively toured New Zealand although they did play two games in Australia. It was an incredibly gruelling tour particularly compared to today’s standard. The Lions played 26 matches in the tour which lasted three months.
On the tour, the Lions won the first test 9-3 in Dunedin. The second test was a comfortable loss 12-22 to New Zealand. In the third test, Lion’s defence only allowed New Zealand to score three points, with the Lions scoring 13 to take the win. With the final test being a draw, the British and Irish Lions would claim their first and only test series win in New Zealand.
The 1971 tour is one of the most historic since the creation of the British and Irish Lions. The 1971 team is known for winning through will, with the 1971 Lions being one of the most confident teams to tour New Zealand and they toured New Zealand a year after the All Blacks had lost a series in South Africa.
It makes the achievement even more impressive when you consider the Lions’ other tours of New Zealand. Before the 1971 tour, the Lions had lost six straight test series in New Zealand, winning just two games in that time. Since then, the British and Irish Lions have not had a massive amount of success either. The Lions did win a test in 1977 and 1993 before a 3-0 loss in 2005. The Lions came incredibly close to a victory in the 2017 tour of New Zealand. The Lions won the second test thanks in part to an early red card to All Blacks centre Sonny Bill Williams. In the deciding test, the two teams drew 15-15 thanks to a 77th-minute penalty from Owen Farrell.