History of rugby union matches between the British and Irish Lions and other countries

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Since 1989, the British and Irish Lions have developed a regular 12 year cycle of tours visiting one of the following three Southern Hemisphere nations, in turn, every four years:

  • Australia (previous 2013, next probably 2025)
  • New Zealand (previous 2005, next 2017)
  • South Africa (previous 2009, next probably 2021)

However the history of their tours is more variable and diverse than the current status-quo might indicate. Prior to World War II the Lions routinely toured Argentina, tours of Australia and New Zealand were frequently carried out in the same trip, intervals between tours were sometimes as much as 14 years (19101924) and sometimes as little as one year (1903, 1904) or even in the same year (1910 South Africa and Argentina). Additionally, whilst making tours the Lions would frequently play other neighbouring nations or teams in countries where the ship pulled into port or where the aircraft landed en route.

The Lions have also played several one-off matches when not on tour; these have all taken place in the United Kingdom with the exception for one match played in France.

The Lions have not always awarded caps for these matches, depending on whether it was felt by the team management that the opposition merited full-international status.

Matches in minor rugby playing nations[edit]

The Lions played Rhodesia (a territory which, at different times in history comprised one or more of the modern day countries of Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe), South-West Africa (now Namibia) and East Africa (a British colony composed of Kenya, Tanzania/Tanganyika and Uganda) on some of their earlier South African tours. Whilst travelling to or from Australia, New Zealand or Argentina, the Lions also played matches against teams in Canada, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and Fiji.

British Lions matches outside the major tour receiving nations
Date Year Venue City Result
1 30 July 1910 Bulawayo Flag of BSAC edit.svg Rhodesia 11 - 24 British Lions
2 24 July 1924 Salisbury  Rhodesia 3 - 16 British Lions
5 1 October 1930 The Racecourse Colombo  Ceylon 0 - 45 British Lions
3 20 July 1938 Salisbury  Rhodesia 11 - 25 British Lions
4 23 July 1938 Bulawayo  Rhodesia 11 - 45 British Lions
5 18 September 1950 The Racecourse Colombo  Ceylon 6 - 44 British Lions
6 5 July 1955 Windhoek South Africa South-West Africa 0 - 9 British Lions
7 27 July 1955 Rhokana Ground Kitwe Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland Rhodesia 14 - 27 British Lions
8 30 July 1955 Police Ground Salisbury Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland Rhodesia 12 - 16 British Lions
9 7 January 1955 RFUEA Ground Nairobi  East Africa 12 - 39 British Lions
10 7 January 1959 British Columbia British Columbia 11 - 16 British Lions
11 28 August 1959  Eastern Canada 6 - 70 British Lions
12 26 May 1962 Hartsfield Ground Bulawayo Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland Rhodesia 9 - 38 British Lions
13 12 June 1962 South West Stadium Windhoek South Africa South-West Africa 6 - 14 British Lions
14 28 August 1962 RFUEA Ground Nairobi  East Africa 0 - 50 British Lions
15 14 September 1966 Empire Stadium Vancouver British Columbia British Columbia 8 - 3 British Lions
16 17 September 1966  Canada 8 - 19 British Lions
17 3 June 1968 Police Ground Salisbury Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland Rhodesia 6 - 32 British Lions
18 12 June 1968 South West Stadium Windhoek South Africa South-West Africa 0 - 23 British Lions
19 18 May 1974 South West Stadium Windhoek South Africa South-West Africa 16 - 23 British Lions
20 18 June 1974 Police Ground Salisbury Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland Rhodesia 6 - 42 British Lions
21 16 August 1977 Buckhurst Park Suva  Fiji 25 - 21 British Lions
22 4 June 1980 South West Stadium Windhoek South Africa South African Country XV 7 - 27 British Lions


One of the most famous matches in Canadian rugby history became known as the "victory for the ages"; it was British Columbia's defeat of the 1966 British Lions[1][2]

Wednesday 14 September 1966
British Columbia 8 – 3 British Lions
Try: Peter Grantham (1)
Con: Don Burgess (1)
Pen: Don Burgess (1)
Drop: None
Try: Dewi Bebb (1)
Con: None
Pen: None
Drop: None
Empire Stadium, Vancouver, Canada.
Attendance: 7000
Referee: Dunbar, J

1959 British Lions tour to Australia and New Zealand
1966 British Lions tour to Australia and New Zealand


On the return journey to the UK, the Lions stopped off in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to play the final tour match of the 1930 British Lions tour to New Zealand and Australia and the 1950 British Lions tour to New Zealand and Australia. The games were played on 1 October 1930 and 18 September 1950, both at the Racecourse in Colombo. The 1930 game was won 45-0. The 1950 local team was composed of executive staff from British companies, British armed forces and three local players, Summa Navaratnam, Leslie Ephraims and Clair Roeloffsz.[3] The Lions won 44-6. This was to be the last Lions match played by the great Irish outside-half, "Jackie" Kyle.[4]
1930 British Lions tour to New Zealand and Australia
1950 British Lions tour to New Zealand and Australia

East Africa[edit]

When the British Lions went to South Africa for their 1955[5] and 1962 tours, they played East Africa in Nairobi on the return legs of their journeys. The Lions won both of these games, 39-12[6] and 50-0 [7] respectively. The 1955 game was East Africa's first international and also saw the official opening of the team's home stadium, the RFUEA Ground,[8] then called the Ngong Road Ground.[9]
1955 British Lions tour to South Africa
1962 British Lions tour to South Africa


On Tuesday 16 August 1977, Fiji played their 88th test match and first against the British Lions. An examination of Fiji's results in the 1950s, 1960's and 1970s demonstrates that they were far more proficient at the fifteen-man game than they are today. A hard fought game saw the lead change four times with no side getting more than 7 points ahead at any time. Fiji scored five tries to the Lions' three and finished worthy winners. The Lions made one replacement during the match, Gordon Brown going on for Trevor Evans. Fiji picked six replacements but used none.[10]

16 August 1977
 Fiji 25 – 21 British Lions
Try: Narisia (2)
Con: Rauto
Penalty Goal: None
Drop Goal: Tikoisuva
Try: Bennett

Con: Bennett (3)
Penalty Goal: Bennett
Drop Goal: None
Buckhurst Park, Suva, Fiji
Referee: Sefanaia Koroi
Touch judge - R Jepson
Touch judge - J Peck

Fiji: (15) Kemueli Musunamasi; (14) Joape Kuinikoro; (13) Senitiki Nasave; (12) Qele Ratu; (11) Wame Gavidi; (10) Pio Tikoisuva (captain); (9) Samisoni Viriviri; (8) Viliame Ratudradra; (7) Vuata Narisia; (6) Rupeni Qaraniqio; (5) Ilisoni Taoba; (4) Ilaitia Tuisese; (3) Nimilote Ratudina; (2) Atonio Racika; (1) Josefa Rauto.
Replacements: Livai Volavola; Isimeli Batibasaga; Isikeli Cagilaba; Lepani Tagicakibau; Luke Nabaro; Apenisa Tokairavua.

British Lions: (15) Andy Irvine ( Scotland); (14) Gareth Evans ( Wales); (13) Ian McGeechan ( Scotland); (12) David Burcher ( Wales); (11) Phil Bennett (captain) ( Wales); (10) John Bevan ( Wales); (9) Alun Lewis (uncapped); (8) Jefferey Squire ( Wales); (7) Trevor Evans ( Wales); (6) Tony Neary ( England); (5) Allan Martin ( Wales); (4) Bill Beaumont ( England); (3) Graham Price ( Wales); (2) Bobby Windsor ( Wales); (1) Charlie Faulkner ( Wales).
Replacements: Gordon Brown( Scotland).

1977 British Lions tour to New Zealand


A regular feature of Lions tours to South Africa between 1910 and 1974 were matches played against Rhodesia, though during this period of history in Southern Africa the designation of Rhodesia is not straightforward. At its simplest it can be regarded as the territories that today comprise Zambia and Zimbabwe. These territories in no way can be regarded as a single entity, let alone a country. It is also not apparent if players selected to play for "Rhodesia" were drawn from one, two or all three of these territories or even (for the period between 1953 and 1963) if any players came from modern day Malawi!

In 1910 when the Lions first visited, North-Western Rhodesia and North-Eastern Rhodesia were two independent territories (administered by the British South Africa Company that together essentially made up the modern day country of Zambia) and Southern Rhodesia was a British colony that is now Zimbabwe.

By the time of the 1924 and 1938 Lions tours, North-Western and North-Eastern Rhodesia had been merged to form the protectorate of Northern Rhodesia; the colony of Southern Rhodesia still existed.

For the 1955 and 1962 tours, these two territories had been combined and, along with modern day Malawi, made up the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.

In 1964 Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland were granted independence and became Zambia and Malawi respectively. Southern Rhodesia remained a colony and called itself Rhodesia (between 1964 and 1979) and Zimbabwe-Rhodesia (in 1979), though this name was not accepted by the British government who, until the independence of Zimbabwe in 1980, continued to call the territory "Southern Rhodesia".
1910 British Lions tour to South Africa
1924 British Lions tour to South Africa
1938 British Lions tour to South Africa
1955 British Lions tour to South Africa
1962 British Lions tour to South Africa
1968 British Lions tour to South Africa
1974 British Lions tour to South Africa

South West Africa[edit]

As for Rhodesia above, the designation of South-West Africa is not simple but for different reasons. The area of land has always been essentially the territory that makes up modern day Namibia; but its legal status was far from clear. As with South Africa, it was essentially under an apartheid regime.

South-West Africa was a German colony (German South-West Africa) from 1884, several small parts were annexed by Britain and added to the Cape Colony which itself was combined with Colony of Natal, Transvaal Colony and the Orange River Colony to become the Commonwealth realm of the Union of South Africa in 1910. After World War I South-West Africa was declared a League of Nations Mandate to be administered by South Africa and after World War II it was supposed to become a United Nations Trust Territory, but South Africa objected and refused to allow it to achieve independence. South Africa's position was supported by the International Court of Justice which required, however, that South Africa follow the previously applied League of Nations Mandate.

Thus for the 1955 and 1962 Lions tours South-West Africa was being regarded and administered as a fifth province of South Africa though it was never officially incorporated into the Commonwealth realm.

In 1966 the United Nations General Assembly declared the League of Nations Mandate terminated and required that South Africa withdraw from Namibia immediately. There followed a protracted struggle for independence by the South-West Africa People's Organisation (SWAPO) with the territory finally achieving independence as the Republic of Namibia in 1990. As a result when the Lions played South-West Africa in 1968, 1974 and 1980 they were technically playing an independent nation that should have been called Namibia, but a nation that was yet to come into existence.
1955 British Lions tour to South Africa
1962 British Lions tour to South Africa
1968 British Lions tour to South Africa
1974 British Lions tour to South Africa
1980 British Lions tour to South Africa

One-off matches (not part of a tour)[edit]

The British and Irish Lions have made three official non-tour appearances, all of which have been on home soil. Teams styled as "The Lions" have turned out on three additional occasions, two on home soil and one in France.[11] Four of these matches have been played in Cardiff (three at the Arms Park and one in the Millennium Stadium), one has been played at Twickenham stadium, London and one at the Parc des Princes in Paris.[11]

One other match, The Skilball Trophy match has been played by a "Four Home Unions" side against "The Rest of Europe" to raise money in aid of the rebuilding of Romania following the overthrow of Nicolae Ceauşescu. It was played at Twickenham on 22 April 1990, the home side wore the Lions badge on their shirts but were not officially a British Lions side.[12]

Lions matches in Europe
Date Year Venue City Result
1 22 September 1951 Cardiff Arms Park Cardiff "British Lions" 14 - 12 Cardiff RFC
2 22 October 1955 Cardiff Arms Park Cardiff "British Lions" 23 - 14 Wales 
3 10 September 1977 Twickenham London British Lions 23 - 14 Barbarian F.C.
4 16 April 1986 Cardiff Arms Park Cardiff British Lions 15 - 7 Rest of the World
5 4 October 1989 Parc des Princes Paris  France 27 - 29 "British Lions"
6 23 May 2005 Millennium Stadium Cardiff British and Irish Lions 25 - 25 Argentina 

Cardiff R.F.C.[edit]

The first match of a "British Lions" team played not while on tour took place on 22 September 1951 at Cardiff Arms Park against the Cardiff club side. The match is sometimes listed as the last game of the Lions 1950 tour, though this was technically not a true Lions team. It may have been difficult to pick a full Lions side however as five members of that Lions touring party played for Cardiff; Billy Cleaver, Jack Matthews, Bleddyn Williams, Rex Willis and Cliff Davies. The match, which was staged to celebrate Cardiff's 75th Anniversary, was won by the "Lions" 14-12.[11]


The second "Lions" match at home, though sometimes listed as the last match of the 1955 British Lions tour to South Africa was also not technically a true British Lions match; it was not officially sanctioned by the team and did not include all the big names of that tour, such as Tony O'Reilly, Jeff Butterfield, Phil Davies, Dickie Jeeps, Bryn Meredith and Jim Greenwood. This match too was played at the Cardiff Arms Park, then the Welsh national stadium, against a Welsh XV on 22 October 1955. This match was staged to mark the 75th anniversary of the Welsh Rugby Union, the "Lions" won 23-14.[11]
1955 (vs Wales XV)

Barbarian F.C.[edit]

The first officially sanctioned home match was a charity fund-raiser held as part of the Queen's silver jubilee celebrations; it was played at Twickenham on 10 September 1977 against the Barbarian F.C.. The Lions were at full tour party strength and the Barbarian side included JPR Williams, Gerald Davies, Gareth Edwards, Jean-Pierre Rives and Jean-Claude Skrela. The match nearly did not take place, the players threatened to boycott the match when their wives and partners were initially not invited to attend. The Lions won 23-14.[11] A second meeting between the sides took place in Hong Kong on 1 June 2013 before the Lions embarked on their tour of Australia, The Lions won the match 59-8.
1977 (vs Barbarians)

Rest of the World XV[edit]

On 16 April 1986, the second officially sanctioned Lions home match was played against the "Rest of the World" at Cardiff Arms Park. This was a warm-up match played both to prepare the side for the impending tour to South Africa and also as a celebration match to mark the International Board's centenary. It turned out to be the only match played by this Lions side; the tour had already been called off by the hosts under political pressure due to the apartheid regime that still existed in South Africa at this time. The Lions won this match 15-7.[11]
1986 (vs The Rest)


On 4 October 1989 a pseudo-Lions combination was put together to play a match at the Parc des Princes against France. The "Lions" were made up mostly of players form the recently completed tour to Australia. The match formed part of the French Republic's bicentennial celebrations of the revolution. France lost the match 29-27.[11]
1989 (vs France)


The most recent officially sanctioned Lions home match was played against Argentina at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on 23 May 2005. Although six test matches have been played against Argentina on three tours (one in 1910, four in 1927 and one in 1936), they have only faced the Lions this one time on foreign soil. The match was designed to be a warm-up match for the impending tour to New Zealand. The Puma's were underdogs going into the match, never having won a match in their 95 year history of playing the Lions. However, they played a scintillating game and were only denied victory by a Jonny Wilkinson penalty seven minutes after the end of regulation time. The final result was a 25 all tie.[11]
2005 (vs Argentina)

See also[edit]


  • Campbell, M; Cohen, E.J. (1960). Rugby Football in East Africa 1909-1959. Rugby Football Union of East Africa. 
  • Godwin, Terry; Rhys, Chris (1981). The Guinness Book of Rugby Facts & Feats. Enfield: Guinness Superlatives Ltd. ISBN 0-85112-214-0. 
  • Smith, David; Williams, Gareth (1980). Fields of Praise: The Official History of The Welsh Rugby Union. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. ISBN 0-7083-0766-3. 
  • Starmer-Smith, Nigel (1977). The Barbarians. Macdonald & Jane's Publishers. ISBN 0-86007-552-4. 
  • Thomas, Clem; updated by Thomas, Greg (2001). The History of The British and Irish Lions. Mainstream Books. pp. pp100–117. ISBN 1-84018-498-1. 


  1. ^ BC Rugby Hall of Fame
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ || Sport
  4. ^ International Rugby Board - IRB Hall of Fame
  5. ^ Kenya Rugby Historical Highlights at kenyarfu.com retrieved 24 August 2009
  6. ^ Thomas (2001) pp100-117
  7. ^ Thomas (2001) pp127-133
  8. ^ IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy IRB.com
  9. ^ Godwin (1981) pp24
  10. ^ FIJI vs BRITISH LIONS at fijirugby.com retrieved 16 April 2010
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h Official Lions Rugby website "The British & Irish Lions : Lions at Home"
  12. ^ Ellerdale - The Skilball Trophy