The first official tour by the British Isles Rugby Union Team, selected by a committee from all four Home Unions, was to South Africa in 1910 at the request of the great Cecil Rhodes, then Governor of the Cape Colony. But the idea was not a new one, as combined British & Irish teams had been heading to the southern hemisphere since 1888.
In fact in 1888 a combined British team made their way to Australia and played a number of Rugby, cricket and AFL games before heading across the ditch to New Zealand.
The first tour, in 1910, was a commercial venture made without official backing, but the six subsequent visits that took place prior to 1910 enjoyed a growing degree of support from the authorities, although only one of these included representatives of all four nations.
The Lions name was coined in 1924 by a group of journalists and was done so because of the emblem on the players' jersey and lapel badges.
The 1950s proved a golden age for Lions Rugby, although it was not until the 1970s that style was matched with the substance of victory in New Zealand and South Africa.
In 1989 The Lions made their first full Tour to Australia. Despite previously having visited Australian shores on a number of occasions throughout the 1950s and 60s they had never stayed for an entire Tour.
The 1989 Series was a brutal affair with the Australian’s laying claim to the opening Test of the three Test series before losing the final two Tests in dramatic fashion.
With the dawn of professionalism and the Rugby World Cup some questioned the future of the Lions. But the popular support given to the 1997 and 2001 tours put an end to these questions.
In 2001, the Lions toured Australia for what was arguably one of the most entertaining and exciting Test series ever played. They played 10 matches across the country, including three Tests.
The Lions tour injected around AUS $100 million into the economy.
The first Test, which was highlighted by a ‘sea of red’ enjoyed a huge crowd of 37,460 and was the first Rugby Test played at the venue since 1951.
The second Test under the roof at Colonial Stadium (now Etihad Stadium) shattered the stadium record with a sell-out crowd of 56,605 and the third Test at Australia Stadium (now ANZ Stadium) attracted 84,188.
All three of the 2001 Lions Tests sold out in a matter of minutes with Ticketek reporting in excess of 2.1 million hits on their website during the 20 minutes that Sydney Test tickets were on sale.
It was a record breaking Tour for the Wallabies as well, claiming a maiden series victory over the British & Irish Lions 2-1 in the best of three Test Series.
The record-breaking Tour was also the first time the two teams competed for the Tom Richards Cup, named after the only man in history to have represented both the Wallabies and the Lions.
In 2013 the British & Irish Lions return to our shores for a series that has been 12 Years In The Making. They will play nine games, including three Tests and will be hungry to revenge the hurt of 2001.