Image: Unsplash; Quino Al

Ahead of the 2021 British & Irish Lions Tour to South Africa, we reveal some interesting facts you probably didn’t know about the greatest touring team in international rugby.

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The Lions have a soft and cuddly mascot

BIL is a soft, cuddly Lion that travels everywhere with the British & Irish Lions. The youngest member of the touring squad is tasked with looking after BIL, and must not let him out of their sight. In 2017, it was Maro Itoje’s turn and he consequently faced forfeits after losing BIL. He pleaded his innocence, suspecting foul play from his teammates. Luckily for all, BIL turned up unharmed.

On the Lions first tour of 1888, they didn’t play a national side

The very first ‘Pride of Lions’ tour saw an amateur team travel to New Zealand and Australia, in an epic 8-month tour. They did not play any national side but held an impressive record, winning 27 of their 35 matches with only 2 losses. In a more obscure turn of events, they also played 19 Aussie rules matches, winning just 6 and drawing 1.

The 2005 tour song that failed to catch on

Before the 2005 Tour of New Zealand, Head Coach Sir Clive Woodward commissioned ‘The Power of Four’, to be sung before every Lions match. It was first sung at the Principality Stadium by Katherine Jenkins as the Lions played in a warm-up match against Argentina. However, the song failed to catch on and was disregarded after the tour.

The legend of Willie John McBride

With five Lions tours under his belt, Willie John McBride is the ultimate British & Irish Lion legend. He played in the red jersey a record 68 times over the five tours, including 17 appearances in Tests. He captained the most successful Lions side of all-time in 1974, as they beat South Africa 3-0 with one drawn match. He also famously implemented the ‘99’ call.

Lions tour history and records

Since the first tour in 1888, 835 players have represented the British & Irish Lions. From Jack Anderton in 1988 (who represents cap number 1) to Finn Russell in 2017 (who represents cap 835), each player has played their part in Lions history and tradition. In all Tests against national sides, the Lions have played 117 matches, winning 47, losing 59 and drawing 11.

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