Danny Grewcock: ‘It was a privilege to be a part of that first test in 2001’

The former England star recalls the last Lions tour of Australia and tells Hugh Godwin about his joy at getting off to a winning start – and the pain of losing the series

Danny Grewcock cannot place the precise moment during the 2001 Lions’ trip to Australia when he came into possession of a mini-rugby ball with the tour logo printed on it, but he kept it as a souvenir and as he watched his son kick it around the family home in Somerset yesterday, it created a nice and natural association with the current venture Down Under. “He’s only three but he loves his rugby,” Grewcock says of young Henry. “He knows the Lions is all going on in Australia at the moment and I think he knows that on some day in the  distant past, I wore the Lions jersey.”

Grewcock was four years into a decade-long international career of 69 caps for England – many of them shoulder to shoulder in the second row with the colossus of captaincy, Martin Johnson – when he went on the 2001 tour. The epitome of the strong, silent type, Grewcock would walk the line of the laws, and occasionally trip over it – in the notorious match with New South Wales in Sydney seven days  before the first Test in Brisbane, for instance, he was one of four players simultaneously sent to the sin-bin after a brawl, having been the recipient of an elbow to the face from the Waratahs’ Tom Bowman that gave a sure indication of the way the evening was heading. But one thing is clear from Grewcock’s recollections: it is better to have played a Lions Test series and lost than never to have played one at all.

Consider this, from the last few minutes of the third and deciding Test in Sydney. Naturally Grewcock has a view on the crucial Lions line-out stolen from Johnson by Justin Harrison to preserve Australia’s six-point lead – one of maybe half-a-dozen individual acts beginning with Jason Robinson’s carefully constructed, coruscatingly finished try early in the first Test that would be in any set of snapshots of the tour. But Grewcock’s first-hand  account is dominated less by the gold jersey and pilfering hands of Harrison – who would later become a club-mate of his at Bath – than by the magic of a then 22-year-old Irish centre. “I  remember that third Test,” says Grewcock, “when the time was ticking, and the Aussies were one score ahead, just seeing Brian O’Driscoll work and work and work. I’d chase him, just knowing that ‘Jesus, if there’s someone who can break the defence, it’s going to be him’. Seeing him give it his all was a credit to the whole team.”

Grewcock has another souvenir: a photograph showing him heading back down the players’ tunnel after the victorious first Test, with the hands of dozens of Lions’ supporters straining to pat him on the back. In common with today’s series opener, the setting was Brisbane, although in 2001 the stadium was the Gabba, a citadel of cricket. It was a wonderful match. Hard but fair, and a revelation of good combinations – Rob Henderson and O’Driscoll in the centres combined the unheralded and the gilded youth – and individual quality, from Robinson’s try, to O’Driscoll’s snipe to make a score for Dafydd James, to the Irishman’s own dash for glory in the second half. The Lions won, 29-13, against a team who at the time held the World Cup, Tri-Nations title and Bledisloe Cup, but who had played only one warm-up match against the New Zealand Maori with a shorter Super Rugby programme than this year’s behind them. The Lions’ head coach, Graham Henry – like Warren Gatland today, a New Zealander – described Australia as “underdone”. The hosts responded with wins in Melbourne and Sydney to add the Lions’ scalp to their heaving honours board.

“We’d got some good wins in the lead-up to the first Test but we also knew we were up against the best side in the world,” says Grewcock, who would play every minute of all three Tests. “What made it for me in Brisbane was the atmosphere when the Lions’ support came in. The town was taken over – and the players really felt that. We’d walked around the Gabba in the days before, and it was nothing like Twickenham or the Millennium Stadium. You realised the crowd would be a long way away, so would we have the atmosphere we all wanted? My thoughts were that we were going to have a very tough day. Then, come the Saturday, we came down in the hotel elevator and the reception was packed with Lions’ fans, cheering the lads on. I’d never seen anything like it. Taking the bus to the ground, the streets and the pubs were filled with them. I’d describe it as the best home game I’ve ever played in, for all the distance we were from home.”

On that morning, UK time, a newspaper column by the Lions’ bench scrum-half Matt Dawson slated Henry’s training regime and claimed some squad members had switched off. “I can’t even remember what Matt said,” is Grewcock’s response. “But Graham Henry did as much as he could to prepare the Test team and on these tours there’s a very small window to get it right. Some players were jaded after a long season, we had a lot of the England coaches involved – Andy Robinson, Dave Alred, Phil Larder – and Henry had been extreme and very tough in his planning. There was a structured game plan and it probably wasn’t until that first Test that it went how we wanted it to. There were some incredibly talented players out there too – O’Driscoll, Jason Robinson, Jonny Wilkinson. It was a privilege for me even to be part of it.”

The first-Test jerseys were presented by the eminent Lion and second row, Willie John McBride, who spoke the right words and not too many of them. Having surprised themselves, to an  extent, the Lions moved on to Melbourne, under a closed roof, with home supporters handed gold T-shirts and scarves to redress the red imbalance.

Grewcock’s Saracens and England colleague Richard Hill was smashed out of the tour by Nathan Grey’s hit on the head, but Grewcock identifies the turning point as the scrum which went “belly up from our side”, to hand Joe Roff a try in Australia’s 35-14 win before they took the third Test, in which the pilferer Harrison made his debut, 29-23. “The Aussies took the shock of the first game and came back at us hard,” says Grewcock. “But we all worked hard to the end. With a different toss of the coin it might have come our way. We were a talented group of players and coaches. It was a very good Australian team that held us out.”

2001: A Lions Odyssey

* First Test details

30 June 2001 Australia 13-29 Lions, The Gabba, Brisbane

Scorers: Australia: Tries Grey, Walker; Pen Walker. British & Irish Lions: Tries Robinson, James, O’Driscoll, Quinnell; Cons Wilkinson 3; Pen Wilkinson.

Line-ups:

Australia: C Latham; A Walker, D Herbert, N Grey, J Roff; S Larkham, G Gregan; N Stiles, J Paul, G Panoho, D Giffin, J Eales (capt), O Finegan, G Smith, T Kefu. Replacements M Burke for Latham, h-t; M Foley for Paul, 55; E Flatley for Larkham, 55; B Darwin for Panoho, 68; M Cockbain for Eales, 72; D Lyons for Finegan, 82.

British & Irish Lions: M Perry (Bath and England); D James (Bridgend and Wales), B O’Driscoll (Leinster and Ireland), R Henderson (Munster and Ireland), J Robinson (Sale and England); J Wilkinson (Newcastle and England), R Howley (Cardiff and Wales); T Smith (Northampton and Scotland), K Wood (Harlequins and Ireland), P Vickery (Gloucester and England), M Johnson (Leicester and England; capt), D Grewcock (Bath and England), M Corry (Leicester and England), R Hill (Saracens and England), S Quinnell (Llanelli and Wales). Replacements: I Balshaw (Bath and England) for Perry, h-t; C Charvis (Swansea and Wales) for Quinnell, 69; J Leonard (Harlequins and England) for Smith, 82.

* Full tour results

8 June W Australia, won 116-10

12 June Q’sld Pres XV, won 83-6

16 June Q’sld Reds, won 42-8

19 June Australia A, lost 28-25

23 June NSW Waratahs, won 41-24

26 June NSW Country, won 46-3

30 June Australia, won 29-13

3 July ACT Brumbies, won 30-28

7 July Australia, lost 35-14

14 July Australia, lost 29-23

* Leading Lions points-scorers

72 J Wilkinson 50 J Robinson

26 R O’Gara

21 M Dawson

20 A Healy, R Henderson, D Luger, B O’Driscoll, S Quinnell

* Leading Lions appearances

8 I Balshaw

7 M Corry, M Dawson, D James, J Leonard, J Robinson

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
News
i100
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices