Lions History

Historical Events

1899: Australia

by David Walmsley - Genesis Publications | May 15, 2013 | May 16, 2013
The tourists of 1899 had three things in common with their successors of 1989: they were the only sides of the 19th and 20th centuries to tour in Australia alone and remain the only Lions to win a series after losing the opening Test. And they both found themselves caught up in a war of words with the Aussie press.

The tourists of 1899 had three things in common with their successors of 1989: they were the only sides of the 19th and 20th centuries to tour in Australia alone and remain the only Lions to win a series after losing the opening Test. And they both found themselves caught up in a war of words with the Aussie press.

The touring party was assembled by manager and captain the Reverend Matthew Mullineux after a planned visit to South Africa was cancelled amid escalating tensions ahead of the outbreak of the Boer War.

Despite featuring legendary Wales centre Gwyn Nicholls in the centres, the Lions were not a full-strength British and Irish combination and were short of match fitness when they faced the first ever Wallabies just 10 days after stepping off the boat.

Australia won their debut international 13-3 and although Mullineaux conceded “it was a great game” he confessed his enjoyment was marred by a front row forward who had “a disagreeable habit of lifting his elbow and knocking it into the faces of his opponents in the scrummage.”

Although the Lions improved to win the last three Tests, Mullineux’s relationship with his hosts went in the other direction.

He referred one disputed try for adjudication by the RFU 10,000 miles away in London, attacked professionalism in the Australian ranks and declared cheating so rife that his hosts “must hold committee meetings for the purpose of arranging the points they will try to work.”

The local press responded largely in kind and another fierce Anglo-Australian rivalry was born.

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

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