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A genuine rivalry steeped in history


As excitement continues to grow ahead of first British and Irish Lions tour in 12 years, Paul Cully takes a look at the 12 top moments from previous tours.

Flare-up ... Austin Healey of the British and Irish Lions (right) clashes with Justin Harrison of the ACT Brumbies.

Flare-up ... Austin Healey of the British and Irish Lions (right) clashes with Justin Harrison of the ACT Brumbies. Photo: Nick Wilson/ALLSPORT

1.  1989 – Battle of Ballymore

It started as a lightweight disagreement between the halfbacks, Nick Farr-Jones and Robert Jones, as the Wallabies great was about to feed the scrum, but really this was just the cue the packs needed to get stuck into each other. With the prickly No.9s scuffling on the ground, and the hapless referee trapped trying to separate them, there were haymakers and short hooks flying from all points of the compass among the forwards, with English hard man Mike Teague proving particularly adept with the fists. The Battle of Ballymore moniker was well earned. The Lions won the match and went on to claim the series 2-1

2. 1989 – Campese's series-deciding meltdown in the third Test

War-wound ... Ronan O'Gara of the British Lions looks on from the bench after receiving eight stitches.

War-wound ... Ronan O'Gara of the British Lions looks on from the bench after receiving eight stitches. Photo: Dave Rogers/ALLSPORT

With the Wallabies leading 12-9 and with 20 minutes to go, Lions No.10 Rob Andrew skewed a drop goal to the right of the posts, where it was collected by David Campese. What followed was a few seconds of madness. Campese inexplicably attempted to run the ball back from the in-goal and tossed the ball behind fullback Greg Martin, whose despairing attempt to reel in the pass ended in agonising failure. Lions winger Ieuan Evans pounced gleefully on the bobbling ball to score the try and put the Lions in front, from where they clinched the series.

3. 2001 – The Red Army invades Brisbane

Players on both sides still talk about the psychological impact of seeing a wall of Red shirts at the Gabba for the opening Test of the 2001 series. The ground looked more like Anfield on a night of European football rather than one of the most famous arenas in Australian sport. Inspired by the travelling support, the Lions stunned the Wallabies by winning the Test, 29-13. To this day that evening in Brisbane remains as the best example of  how a Lions series – in some ways gloriously archaic – captures the imagination of supporters like no other.

4.  2001 – Jason Robinson stands up Chris Latham

In just the third minute of that Gabba Test, the outstanding Wallabies fullback Chris Latham found himself in a one-on-one with flying Lions winger Jason Robinson as the Lions started with pace and width. Latham showed the league convert the touchline. Before he realised the folly of the decision, Robinson had exploded past him with a wonderful in-and-away. If Latham managed to even get fingertips on Robinson, it was the merest of touches. In an instant, the Wallabies realised they were in for a series that would push them to their limits.

5. 2001 – Waltzing O'Driscoll

Remarkably, the Irish centre is being talked about as a potential Lions captain this year, 12 years after he announced himself to a global audience with an individual try at the Gabba that left the likes of George Smith and Matthew Burke clawing at thin air. Taking the ball just inside his own half, a fresh-faced Brian O'Driscoll burst through the heart of a Wallabies defensive line that appeared, mentally, to still be in the half-time sheds. He then stepped past Burke and raced away under the posts for

one of the Lions' four tries that evening.

6. 2001 – Be Bold, Wear Gold

Stung by the loss of the first Test – and by the sea of red in the stands – the Wallabies began the fightback from head office. The ARU lashed out $80,000 on gold scarves to hand out to fans at the second Test at Etihad Stadium under the slogan "Be Bold, Wear Gold". It worked. The injection of colour reminded the Lions they were the visiting team and in front of 56,000 in Melbourne, and the Wallabies squared the series on a memorable night for Matthew Burke, who collected 25 points in a 35-14 victory with a try, a conversion and six penalties.

7. 2001 – Joe Roff intercept turns the series on its head

Not only did Joe Roff have size and speed, he could read the game. With the Wallabies trailing 11-6 at the start of the second half of the second Test in Melbourne, Roff picked off a pass from Jonny Wilkinson and dashed 30 metres to the left-hand corner for the try that swung the series. The Lions had looked the more convincing side, but after Roff's intervention the belief started flowing back into the Wallabies. In its own way, it was every bit as important as the Justin Harrison lineout steal in the deciding Test.

8. 2001 – Bigmouth Austin Healey sparks Plankgate

Otherwise known as: "The wonderful perils of allowing players to write their own newspaper columns." In a multi-faceted attack – part tongue-in-cheek, part genuine frustration – on many things Australian, Lions halfback/winger Austin Healey used a Guardian column to identify Wallabies second-rower Justin Harrison as a "plod", a "plank" and an "ape" – also accusing Harrison of injuring him during the ACT-Lions game. Never short of a word, Healey also offered his thoughts on the ''macho'' Australian male and the weather – although none of it was as prophetic as the following line about Harrison. "Do you think one of us will have the final say? I'll say so."

9.  2001 – Lions coach Graham Henry accuses Wallabies of illegal tactics

This week Lions coach Warren Gatland revealed that he would not be averse to playing mind games this year. But another New Zealand coach beat him to it. In the ill-tempered build-up to the first Test, with accusations flying between both camps, Graham Henry suggested the Wallabies' use of decoy runners in the back line amounted to obstruction. Responding to claims his side were making a mess of the breakdown, Henry said: ''I don't think the Australians will change the way they play. Sometimes there is some obstruction going on but it's important that the referees see it.'' Prepare for more of the same this year.

10.  2001 – Duncan McRae assaults Ronan O'Gara

He is not quite in the Keven Mealamu/Tana Umaga category, but the mere mention of McRae's name still prompts scowls on the faces of Lions fans. And with good reason. During the fractious NSW v Lions match at the SFS, McRae gave way completely to his basest instincts, pinning down the Irishman and trying to rearrange his facial features without consent or anaesthetic. The extent of McRae's thuggery was revealed as O'Gara walked off the field, a deep scarlet gash immediately apparent under his left eye. The Lions were appalled and disgusted and still regard it as a scar on the last tour. Memories can last a long while.

11.  2001 – Justin Harrison leaps into immortality

It might just be the most famous lineout in the history of Australian rugby. With the Wallabies hanging on to a 29-23 lead in the dying minutes of the deciding Test in Sydney, the Lions won a lineout deep in Wallabies territory. Their script would have read like this: bank on the money-ball to Martin Johnson at the front, and maul it over for the match-winner. Harrison hadn't read that version. Instead, he jumped across the English enforcer, grabbed Keith Wood's throw with his left hand and somehow held on to it as he fell from the skies to the ground. It was an amazing mixture of athleticism and courage. The Wallabies had found a way to win, as was their hallmark in that era.

12. 2001 – Rod Macqueen goes out a winner

That dramatic 29-23 win in the third Test brought down the curtain on Macqueen's tenure in appropriate fashion. His record is staggering, and grows more so with the passage of time. To recap, here are his achievements from a spell Australians look back upon with wistful nostalgia: the 1999 World Cup, the Tri Nations in 2000 and 2001, the Bledisloe Cup from 1998 to 2001 and, of course, the Lions series win in 2001. His winning percentage during that time sits at just under 80 per cent, reflecting a player group that was not only abundantly talented, but mentally tougher and smarter than their opponents. Wallabies fans dream of seeing such a period again.


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