British and Irish Lions 1989 and 2001: The glory and pain of series deciders

 

Lions 1989: The vital punch that wasn’t thrown as Richards and Co hit back to wallop Wallabies

Perhaps the most significant moment in the unbearably tense third and deciding Test of a 1989 Lions tour remembered for its violence was one when hardly a punch was thrown.

Nick Farr-Jones and Robert Jones got into a brawl and the pent-up crowd at the Sydney Football Stadium must have thought: uh-oh, here we go again. But no. While the two scrum-halves whose fight had set off the notorious Battle of Ballymore a week earlier went at it again, the supporting cast refrained, with the Lions’ man of the series, “Iron” Mike Teague, cocking a fist in front of a Wallaby as if to say, “If you want some, you’ll get it, but that’s not the way we’re playing it”.

The 1989 tour stands out as the only one in which the Lions lost the first Test – by 30-12 and four tries to none – but recovered to win the series. Dean Richards, the Lions’ No 8 now overseeing Newcastle Falcons’ return to the Aviva Premiership, recalls how his team reached the third Test in the right mood, despite the anger and anarchy raging around them. “Because we’d won the second Test in the manner we did do, totally outmuscling the Australians, and scoring two nice tries, it meant for the third Test we thought if we couldn’t play the rugby, we’d outmuscle them again,” Richards says. “We had every chance of winning it, one way or the other. So it was far more relaxed heading into that match.”

The Lions had taken a break on the coast of Queensland, just as their 2013 successors have done this week. “To chill out after having lost a Test is a strange thing to do,” Richards says of the current squad. “On top of that, they have made a lot of changes. In ’89 we made no changes. We chilled out and we had a few beers. And it worked. Well, I say it worked. We absolutely stuffed the Aussies in the third Test – what was it, 19-18?” Yes it was and the manner of the Lions’ solitary try in addition to five penalties kicked by Gavin Hastings is writ large in Lions and Australian legend.

Late in the first half David Campese, the most lavishly gifted Wallaby in a formidable team which would win the World Cup at Twickenham two years later, threw a Hail Mary pass that did not work. Soon afterwards the Lions pushed the Wallabies off their own ball at a crucial scrum – an example of Richards’s “outmuscling” which was much more than just a euphemism for the second-Test aggro in which the forwards had fought each other and, more reprehensibly, the tourists’ prop Dai Young trod on the head of an opponent. The 1989 Lions had an excellent pack and they were a thinking team too. From the next scrum, Australia’s fly-half Michael Lynagh shot between Rob Andrew and Jerry Guscott to make a try for Ian Williams and an interval score of 9-9.

Early in the second half, Andrew hoisted an almighty Garryowen, leading to a Lions scrum in the Australian 22. Taking a floppy pass from Jones, with the Australian flanker Scott Gourley bearing down on him, Andrew tried a dropped goal that went three metres wide to the right. It gave Campese, fielding the ball in the in-goal area, a big short-side he thought he might exploit. Wrong. So wrong. Ieuan Evans, the Lions’ right wing, had chased up hard and, having been embarrassed by a Campese dummy earlier in the match, he was on his mettle to avoid a repeat. Campese panicked and tossed the ball to the full-back looping round him, Greg Martin, who looked as if he’d rather have been given chickenpox. Martin dropped it, Evans pounced and the Lions led 13-12.

“Campo is what he is,” says Richards, “and what makes him famous is also his… well, not his undoing, because he was never really undone other than that one occasion, which really blights him. He was an unbelievable player, a fantastic finisher, very creative – and he just made one mistake and it gave us the series. I was some distance away and when I saw Ieuan diving for the ball, I was thinking, ‘Is it really happening, has he actually scored?’ But then you’ve got the rest of the game to play out.”

Two penalties to each side moved the score along until a last break-out by Campese was snuffed out by a swarm of Lions tacklers, with Richards demonstrating his career-long ability to anticipate the position. Finlay Calder, the Lions’ Scottish captain, thought his team were the best in the world, yet the 1989 team have never been as celebrated as the 1971 and 1974 teams. “We could on our day have beaten any team at that time,” says Richards. “We probably don’t get the plaudits we should. So what? We felt we did all right. We had such dogged individuals, Paul Ackford and Wade Dooley in the second row, Brian Moore in the front row, Teague in the back row, Finley – a hard bloke. You couple that with the tacticians: Robert Jones, Rob Andrew, and Jerry… there was a lot of character in the side.”

The second Test, graced by Guscott’s grubber-kick try, was, according to Richards, “as physical a game as most people would ever have played in”. “Nick Farr-Jones [the Wallabies’ captain] was speaking at the after-match function, and he was trying to say ‘this isn’t rugby’ but he couldn’t say it because he had a big fat lip.

“It was ridiculous because the Australians love – absolutely love – to be portrayed as the most physical rugby nation around. For them to  then squeal as much as they did do afterwards was quite bizarre. There was some awkward stuff for me, Dooley and Ackford [who all had jobs in the police], which was totally out of order.”

The winning Lions: 1989 final Test

15 July 1989: Australia 18-19 British & Irish Lions

Scorers: Australia: Try Williams. Con Lynagh. Pens Lynagh 4. Lions: Try Evans. Pens G Hastings 5.

Line-ups:

Australia G Martin; I Williams, L Walker, D Maguire, D Campese; M Lynagh, N Farr-Jones (capt); M Hartill, T Lawton, D Crowley, W Campbell, S Cutler, J Miller, S Gourley, S Tuynman.

Lions: G Hastings (London Scottish/Scot); I Evans (Llanelli/Wales), S Hastings (Watsonians/Scot), J Guscott (Bath/Eng), R Underwood (Leicester/Eng); R Andrew (Wasps/Eng), R Jones (Swansea/Wales); D Sole (Edinburgh Academicals/Scot), B Moore (Harlequins/Eng), D Young (Cardiff/Wales), P Ackford (Harlequins/Eng), W Dooley (Preston Grasshoppers/Eng), M Teague (Gloucester/Eng), F Calder (Stewart’s Melville FP/Scot; capt), D Richards (Leicester/Eng)

Lions 2001: Perry still regrets throwing away crucial chance of sparking late Sydney recovery

When Justin Harrison made the leap of faith, guts, intuition and athleticism to steal the Lions’ line-out in the third Test of the 2001 tour it came to be regarded as the final, defining act of Australia’s 2-1 series win. Not to Matt Perry, though. The Lions’ full-back of 12 years ago needs no reminding now, as he sits in his City of London office, managing his clients in the technology of mobile banking, that there was time enough after Harrison’s famous steal from Martin Johnson for the tourists to mount a last attack, a dash for glory. “I’m convinced if we’d scored a try in that last five minutes, Jonny Wilkinson would have kicked the goal and we’d have won,” says Perry. “I should have given a better pass, put the ball in front of Balsh. The execution wasn’t quite there. The margins are so small.”

It was a measure of Perry’s determination that he had wrested the Lions’ No 15 jersey from “Balsh” – Iain Balshaw, his Bath and England team-mate – in the first place, to start each of the three Tests on a tour led by Graham Henry as head coach, Johnson as captain, and Wilkinson as top-of-his-game playmaker. A measure of Perry now, too, that he can admit his regret over that pass at Sydney’s Olympic Stadium.

The Lions were six points behind as Brian O’Driscoll and Rob Henderson, their Ireland centres, made ground in one of those frantic multi-phase sequences in which any mistake can mean the end. Wilkinson skipped and probed towards the right-hand touchline. The 80-minute hooter blared out just as the fly-half dummied to draw two tacklers and freed his hands to pass to Perry, who passed to Balshaw on the 22-metre line – but the ball was slightly behind the wing, who had only been on the field a few minutes as a replacement for Dafydd James. The Wallabies’ scrum-half, George Gregan, was covering across. The position was good, but not the equivalent of an open goal. Either way, the chance was lost. “I got over it quickly at the time,” says Perry. “It’s only with hindsight that you start to chew over it. It felt at the time that we were always keeping ourselves just in it.”

Johnson, the safe-as-houses front jumper ambushed by Harrison on the latter’s Test debut, spoke post-match of feeling “very numb” and appeared close to tears as he apologised to the Lions fans for not winning. It must have a felt a lifetime rather than a fortnight since he had won the toss for the kick-off of the first Test at The Gabba and joked to the referee, “We’ll bat”. The Lions won the opener 29-13 but the Wallabies hit back in Melbourne when Joe Roff scored a try by intercepting a Wilkinson pass, and the tourists’ flanker Richard Hill was poleaxed by Nathan Grey.

“You felt like those incidents had given Australia the momentum,” Perry recalls. “It was part of the emotional stuff that chipped away at the morale. There were newspaper columns by Austin Healey and Matt Dawson. The guys apologised but on the pitch in rugby it’s all about trust. In another sense, we all felt relaxed going into the third Test because there was nothing else to think about at the end of a long season, in the middle of July, than winning the match. In training we were doing walking-touch, saving our energy. It’s not an excuse but a lot of us were mentally and physically broken.” For the third time in as many Tests the Lions failed to score a point in the final quarter.

“The most important thing about the Lions is that everyone buys into it,” says Perry. “For the team that’s out there now, and for the legacy, it feels to me like they’ll win today. I hope so, because some people are doubting the place the Lions has in the professional game.”

The losing Lions: 2001 final Test

14 July 2001: Australia 29-23 British & Irish Lions

Scorers: Australia: Tries Herbert 2. Cons Burke 2. Pens Burke 5. Lions: Tries Robinson, Wilkinson. Cons Wilkinson 2. Pens Wilkinson 3.

Line-ups:

Australia M Burke; A Walker, D Herbert, N Grey (J Holbeck, 79), J Roff; E Flatley, G Gregan; N Stiles, M Foley, R Moore, J Harrison, J Eales (capt), O Finegan (M Cockbain, 74), G Smith, T Kefu.

Lions: M Perry (Bath/Eng); D James (Bridgend/Wal; I Balshaw (Bath/Eng), 74), B O’Driscoll (Leinster/Ire), R Henderson (Munster/Ire), J Robinson (Sale/Eng); J Wilkinson (Newcastle/Eng), M Dawson Northampton/Eng); T Smith (Northampton/Scot;  D Morris (Swansea/Wal), 74), K Wood  (Harlequins/Ire), P Vickery (Gloucester/Eng), M Johnson (Leicester/Eng; capt), D Grewcock (Bath/Eng), M Corry (Leicester/Eng), N Back (Leicester/Eng), S Quinnell (Llanelli/Wal; C Charvis (Swansea/Wal), h-t).

 

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