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Ahead of the much-anticipated 2021 British and Irish Lions Tour to South Africa, we look at the rich history of one of the most iconic teams in world rugby.

It's the tournament that sees rugby greats from England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland join forces as the British and Irish Lions; assembling a team that will storm stadiums across the Southern Hemisphere, to face some of the toughest competition in world rugby.

Next summer, the Lions will head to South Africa for a showstopping eight-date match tour. As the excitement builds, we take a brief but intriguing look at the history of the Lions tour that spans three centuries.    

Who are the British and Irish Lions?

The British and Irish Lions are rugby union team made up of a selection of home nations players; these players represent the national teams of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.

When was the first British Lions tour?

The very first British Lions Tour was set up by former England cricketers, Alfred Shaw (who bowled the first-ever ball in Test cricket), Arthur Shrewsbury and James Lillywhite.

The tour took place in 1888, when captain Robert Seddon led a 22-man squad on a tour of Australia and New Zealand. The squad consisted of predominately of players from England but also featured those from Scotland and Wales.

During this tour, the British Lions played 35 matches over nearly 250 days. While no test matches were played, the side faced provincial, city and academic teams, winning 27 of their games.  

When did the British Lions become the British and Irish Lions?

In 1896, five years after the British Lions second tour, nine of Ireland's players had joined the touring party, including: Thomas, Crean, Larry Bulger, Jim Sealy, Andrew Clinch and Louis Magee. Prior to the tour, each of these players had helped Ireland win the 1896 Home Nations Championship.      

How often do the British and Irish Lions tour?

The British and Irish Lions traditionally tour every 4 years. The tours take place in the Southern Hemisphere, rotating around Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Before the Second World War, the team also routinely toured Argentina.  

Who are the most capped British and Irish Lions players of all time?

The most capped player in British & Irish Lions history is Ireland's Willie John McBride, with 17 caps who played between 1962-1974. England's Scrum-half, Dick Jeeps comes in second, with 13 caps earned from years 1955-1962.

Historically, the Welsh player with the most caps is Prop, Graham Price. Price gained 12 caps from 1977-1983. Scotland's most capped player is Full-back Andy Irvine, who's got 9 caps under his belt, earned from years 1974-1980.

The most capped player of the noughties and beyond player is Wales' Lock, Alun Wyn Jones. Jones has represented the Lions 9 time from 2009-2017.

Who are the Lions top 5 biggest point scorers?

They Lions player top point scorer of all time is Scotland's Gavin Hastings. The Full-back has won a total of 69 points. England's Johnny Wilkinson follows with 67 points, while three of Wales' players making up the top five point scorers. These include: Stephen Jones with 53 points, Leigh Halfpenny with 49 points and Phil Bennett with 44 points.

A brief history of the Lions iconic jersey

It's regarded as one of the most iconic shirts in rugby, but it hasn't always looked as it does today. The red jersey is synonymous with the Lions touring team however, they didn't always wear red.

Back in 1888, the first Isle squad donned a red, white and blue hoops. From then, the kit design changed with every tour, although the alterations were small. On a tour to Australia and New Zealand in 1908, Scotland and Ireland dropped out of the team. The Lions were now made up of only English and Welsh players, which resulted in the shirt changing to red with a single white hoop.

In 1910, Scotland and Ireland returned to the Lions and the shirt became navy blue - it stayed that way for nearly 30 years. After an extended break from British and Irish rugby - due to the war - the Lions had settled on the red jersey in the 1950s - it has stayed the same since.  

Historical British and Irish Lions team stats

From the 19th - 21st Century, the British & Irish Lions have played a phenomenal 651 games, won a whopping 488, drawn just 32 and suffered 131 losses.


Wikipedia: 1896 British Lions tour to South Africa and British and Irish Lions

Wales Online: Lions Tour: The shirt remains the same - the story of the iconic Lions jersey

The British and Irish Lions: 1888-1899 - Touring Tradition Begins in 19th Century and Historical Statistics

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