Lions History

Historical Events

1896: South Africa

by David Walmsley - Genesis Publications | May 15, 2013 | May 16, 2013
Finding the opposition much tougher than on their first visit to South Africa, the tourists tightened up accordingly and restricted themselves to no more than four glasses of champagne before playing.

Finding the opposition much tougher than on their first visit to South Africa, the tourists tightened up accordingly and restricted themselves to no more than four glasses of champagne before playing.

Captained by Johnny Hammond, one of only two uncapped Lions leaders, the team lost only one of their 21 matches, although that defeat marked a pivotal moment in Springbok history as their first victory in an international.

The Lions won the first three Tests, but did so by shrinking margins until they were overhauled in the last, albeit in controversial circumstances.

The South Africans – playing in green for the first time – scored the winning try through Alf Larrard while the visitors stood around awaiting a scrum they thought the referee had given.

In their defence, the Lions were running out of steam by this point in the tour and had been increasingly hampered by backline weakness and injuries accumulated on grass-free pitches they likened to “just the road with most of the stones taken off”.

The social side of the tour remained as frenetic as ever – the Lions sang at concerts, appeared on the same bill as Mark Twain, picnicked with celebrities, visited political prisoners and survived on two hours sleep the night before matches – but, on the field, the fun of a series victory was over for the next 78 years.

Adapted from the forthcoming book The Lions: The Complete History of the British and Irish Rugby Union Team

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