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1997 British Lions tour to South Africa

The 1997 British Lions tour to South Africa was a series of matches played by the British Lions rugby union team in South Africa. This tour followed the Lions' 1993 tour to New Zealand and preceded their 2001 tour to Australia. The much-anticipated tour was the first after the end of apartheid in South Africa, and the first Lions tour since rugby union turned professional. It was only the third time that a touring side had won a test series in South Africa; the others being the 1974 Lions and the 1996 All Blacks.[1]

1997 British Lions Tour to South Africa
Date24 May – 5 July
Coach(es)ScotlandIan McGeechan
Scotland Jim Telfer
Tour captain(s)England Martin Johnson
Test series winnersBritish Lions (2–1)
Top test point scorer(s)Wales Neil Jenkins (41)
Top point scorer(s)England Tim Stimpson (111)
Top test try scorer(s)England Matt Dawson (2)
Top try scorer(s)England John Bentley (7)
England Tony Underwood (7)

A documentary Living with Lions was produced and contains footage of players and coaching staff during and away from matches.

Pre-tour prospectsEdit

South Africa had won the 1995 Rugby World Cup, but were in decline at the time of the tour. The inaugural Tri Nations in 1996 had been comfortably won by New Zealand with South Africa winning only one of their four matches in the tournament. There was also some disarray in the management of the game in South Africa with the resignation of the coach Andre Markgraaff and the acrimonious replacement of the World Cup-winning captain Francois Pienaar. Nevertheless, the Lions were seen to be underdogs – for example an editorial in the South African sports magazine "SA Sports Illustrated" said "The British Lions arrived in South Africa rated – by their own media, South African media and supporters – as nothing more than rank underdogs. A nice bunch of blokes who were making a bit of history and, in so doing, winning friends rather than matches".

The resultsEdit

The Lions convincingly won the first test at Newlands 25–16 with Neil Jenkins kicking five penalties, and Matt Dawson and Alan Tait scoring tries. Despite scoring three tries in the second test at Durban, the Springboks suffered from some woeful goal kicking and failed to land any penalties or conversions, while the Lions Neil Jenkins once again kicked five penalties to level the scores at 15–15 before a Jerry Guscott drop goal for an 18–15 lead for the Lions. The Lions then held off a ferocious South African fightback, Lawrence Dallaglio putting in a magnificent try-saving tackle, to win the match 18–15 and take the series. The third test at Ellis Park proved a match too far for the Lions squad and they lost 35–16.

The tour was a triumph for the Lions management of Fran Cotton (Manager), Ian McGeechan (Head Coach), Jim Telfer (Assistant Coach) and especially the Captain Martin Johnson. It was the last occasion on which the Lions returned victorious from a tour until the victorious tour of Australia in 2013.

Lions squadEdit

The original 35-man squad was:

Name Position Club Home Nation Notes
Martin Johnson (Capt.) Second Row Leicester   England
Neil Jenkins Full back Pontypridd   Wales
Tim Stimpson Full back Newcastle   England
Nick Beal Winger Northampton   England
John Bentley Winger Newcastle   England
Ieuan Evans Winger Llanelli   Wales
Tony Underwood Winger Newcastle   England
Allan Bateman Centre Richmond   Wales
Scott Gibbs Centre Swansea   Wales
Will Greenwood Centre Leicester   England
Jeremy Guscott Centre Bath   England
Alan Tait Centre Newcastle   Scotland
Paul Grayson Fly-half Northampton   England
Gregor Townsend Fly-half Northampton   Scotland
Matt Dawson Scrumhalf Northampton   England
Austin Healey Scrumhalf Leicester   England
Rob Howley Scrumhalf Cardiff   Wales
Paul Wallace Prop Saracens   Ireland
Jason Leonard Prop Harlequins   England
Graham Rowntree Prop Leicester   England
Tom Smith Prop Watsonians   Scotland
Dai Young Prop Cardiff   Wales
Mark Regan Hooker Bristol   England
Barry Williams Hooker Neath   Wales
Keith Wood Hooker Harlequins   Ireland
Jeremy Davidson Second Row London Irish   Ireland
Simon Shaw Second Row Bristol   England
Doddie Weir Second Row Newcastle   Scotland
Neil Back Back Row Leicester   England
Lawrence Dallaglio Back Row Wasps   England
Richard Hill Back Row Saracens   England
Eric Miller Back Row Leicester   Ireland
Scott Quinnell Back Row Richmond   Wales
Tim Rodber Back Row Northampton   England
Rob Wainwright Back Row Watsonians   Scotland
Tony Stanger Winger   Scotland Later addition to the tour
Mike Catt Fly-half   England Later addition to the tour
Kyran Bracken Scrum-half   England Later addition to the tour
Tony Diprose Back Row   England Later addition to the tour
Nigel Redman Second Row   England Later addition to the tour


Scores and results list British Lions's points tally first.[1]
Date Opponent Location Result Score
Match 1 24 May Eastern Province XV Boet Erasmus Stadium, Port Elizabeth Won 39–11
Match 2 28 May Border Basil Kenyon Stadium, East London Won 18–14
Match 3 31 May Western Province Newlands, Cape Town Won 38–21
Match 4 4 June Mpumalanga Johann van Riebeeck Stadium, Witbank Won 64–14
Match 5 7 June Northern Transvaal Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria Lost 30–35
Match 6 11 June Gauteng Lions Ellis Park, Johannesburg Won 20–14
Match 7 14 June Sharks King's Park, Durban Won 42–12
Match 8 17 June Emerging Springboks Boland Stadium, Wellington Won 51–22
Match 9 21 June South Africa Newlands, Cape Town Won 25–16
Match 10 24 June Free State Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein Won 52–30
Match 11 28 June South Africa King's Park, Durban Won 18–15
Match 12 1 July Northern Free State Noord-wes Stadium, Welkom Won 67–39
Match 13 5 July South Africa Ellis Park, Johannesburg Lost 16–35

First TestEdit

21 June 1997
South Africa   16–25 British and Irish Lions
Try: Du Randt 23' m
Bennett 44' m
Pen: Lubbe (1/1) 3'
Honiball (1/1) 50'
Report[2] Try: Dawson 73' m
Tait 79' m
Pen: Jenkins (5/6) 6', 33', 35', 43', 62'
FB 15 André Joubert
RW 14 James Small
OC 13 Japie Mulder
IC 12 Edrich Lubbe   40'
LW 11 André Snyman
FH 10 Henry Honiball
SH 9 Joost van der Westhuizen
N8 8 Gary Teichmann (c)
OF 7 André Venter
BF 6 Ruben Kruger
RL 5 Hannes Strydom
LL 4 Mark Andrews
TP 3 Adrian Garvey
HK 2 Naka Drotske
LP 1 Os du Randt
16 Russell Bennett   40'
17 Boeta Wessels
18 Werner Swanepoel
19 Krynauw Otto
20 James Dalton
21 Dawie Theron
  Carel du Plessis
FB 15   Neil Jenkins
RW 14   Ieuan Evans
OC 13   Scott Gibbs
IC 12   Jeremy Guscott
LW 11   Alan Tait
FH 10   Gregor Townsend
SH 9   Matt Dawson
N8 8   Tim Rodber
OF 7   Richard Hill
BF 6   Lawrence Dallaglio
RL 5   Jeremy Davidson
LL 4   Martin Johnson (c)
TP 3   Paul Wallace
HK 2   Keith Wood
LP 1   Tom Smith   79'
PR 16   Jason Leonard   79'
17   John Bentley
18   Mike Catt
19   Austin Healey
20   Barry Williams
21   Rob Wainwright
  Ian McGeechan

Second TestEdit

28 June 1997
South Africa   15–18 British Lions
Try: Van der Westhuizen
Pen: Jenkins (5)
Drop: Guscott
King's Park, Durban
Attendance: 50000
Referee: Didier Mene (France)

South Africa: 15. Joubert 14. Small 13. Montgomery 12. Snyman 11. Rossouw 10. Honiball 9. van der Westhuizen 1. du Randt 2. Drotske 3. Garvey 4. Strydom 5. Andrews 6. Kruger 7. Venter 8. Teichmann (capt). Replacements: 16. van Heerden 17. Theron 18. Bennett 19. Wessels 20. Swanepoel 21. Dalton

British Lions. 15. Jenkins 14. Bentley 13. Gibbs 12. Guscott 11. Tait 10. Townsend 9. Dawson 1. Smith 2. Wood 3. Wallace 4. Johnson (capt) 5. Davidson 6. Dallaglio 7. Hill 8. Rodber. Replacements: 16. Back 17. Healey 18. Miller 19. Catt 20. Williams 21. Leonard

Third TestEdit

5 July 1997
South Africa   35–16 British Lions
Try: Van der Westhuizen
Con: De Beer (2)
Pen: De Beer (3)
Try: Dawson
Con: Jenkins
Pen: Jenkins(3)
Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Attendance: 62000
Referee: Wayne Erickson (Australia)

South Africa: 15 Bennett, 14 Snyman, 13 Montgomery, 12 van Schalkwyk, 11 Rossouw, 10 de Beer, 9 van der Westhuizen, 1 du Randt, 2 Dalton, 3 Theron, 4 Strydom, 5 Otto, 6 Erasmus, 7 Venter, 8 Teichmann, (capt). Replacements: 16 Honiball, 17 Garvey, 18 Drotské, 19 Swart, 20 van Heerden, 21 Swanepoel

British Lions: 15 Jenkins, 14 Bentley, 13 Gibbs, 12 Guscott, 11Underwood; 10. Catt, 9. Dawson; 1 Smith, 2 Regan, 3 Wallace 4 Johnson (capt), 5 Davidson, 6 Wainwright, 7 Back, 8 Dallaglio. Replacements: 16 Stimpson, 17 Bateman, 18 Healey, 19 Hill, 20 Williams, 21 Young


  1. ^ a b Mick Cleary and John Griffiths, ed. (1997). Rothmans Rugby Union Yearbook 1997–98. London: Headline Book Publishing. ISBN 0 7472 7732 X.
  2. ^ Hewett, Chris. "Rugby Union: First blood to roaring Lions". The Independent. Retrieved 8 July 2019.