As preparations this year’s British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa gather more pace, let’s look back 20 years to the 2001 tour to Australia, which was one of the most hotly contested in the modern era.
Although South Africa four years prior was officially the first professional tour, it still had a largely amateur era feel to it. Therefore, it is generally accepted that the 2001 trip was the first proper professional tour and it certainly had a far different approach to it.
Led by Graham Henry, the 2001 tour ended in a 2-1 victory for Australia after three intriguing Test matches – two of which were largely one-sided affairs for each side.
It was also a tour of controversy, with newspaper columns being written by Austin Healy and Matt Dawson, accusing the Lions staff of poor scheduling and a lack of team spirit.
Then there was the on-field action which turned sour when the Waratahs full back Duncan McRae was sent off for pummelling Ronan O’Gara, leaving the Irish out-half requiring a hefty number of stitches.
But around all of that, there was some sensational tries scored by the Lions, most notably Jason Robinson – who was still relatively new to the Union game after switching from League in 2000 – who stunned the home crowd in the first test by touching down inside four minutes.
As you would expect, Brian O’Driscoll features heavily in this official British and Irish Lions try compilation video, not just scoring against the Wallabies in the first test or against the Waratahs, but also for his setting up of Daffyd James’ try in Game 1 off a glorious set-piece move as well.
Ultimately, the test series was decided by just six points in the final game, with the Lions’ discipline proving costly, conceding two more penalties to the hosts and eventually going down 29-23 in a dramatic match in Sydney.