Lions History

Historical Events

1908: Australia and New Zealand

by David Walmsley - Genesis Publications | May 15, 2013 | May 16, 2013
In 1908 a British Isles tour to Australasia was planned as a means of halting the advance of rugby league there. In the event, the side that travelled was an Anglo-Welsh combination, after the Scottish and Irish unions refused to sanction their players’ involvement.
In 1908 a British Isles tour to Australasia was planned as a means of halting the advance of rugby league there. In the event, the side that travelled was an Anglo-Welsh combination, after the Scottish and Irish unions refused to sanction their players’ involvement.

They did not miss much as the Lions’ efforts to promote rugby union in Australia and New Zealand appeared based on making their opponents look good at it.

On a tour on which the majority of matches were, for the first time, in New Zealand, the Anglo-Welsh side led by London Welsh’s Arthur ‘Boxer’ Harding lost nine of their 26 matches, including two of the three Tests.

The Lions lost the first and third Tests 32-5 and 29-0 but somehow managed to conjure up a superb wet-weather performance to draw the second international 3-3 in Wellington.

In fact, only the conditions denied them victory as, when ‘Ponty’ Jones scored the only try of the game underneath the posts, the ball was so wet and heavy that Harding could not lift it over the bar even from directly in front.

Normal service resumed in the final Test, however, as New Zealand scored nine tries to record what would stand for 75 years as their biggest win against the Lions.

The two side’s preparations showed the growing difference in approach to the game on the opposite sides of the globe.

While the All Blacks were being “trained like racehorses”, the British spent four days “sightseeing themselves sick” in Rotorua. When they did get back to Auckland after nine hours on a train, the weather was too wet for them to train outdoors on the day before the game.

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


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