The British and Irish Lions is one of rugby union’s great institutions. It’s an amateur concept in a now professional sport. Its bringing together of Scots, English, Welsh and Irish under one banner and in one jersey continues to resonate for rugby union fans everywhere.

Since as far back as 1888, a single team representing all of the four ‘Home Nations’, England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland, has set out from these shores to take on the best of the Southern Hemisphere. Whether travelling to New Zealand, South Africa or Australia, the tour has created some of the most iconic rugby union memories in history.

From Many Comes One Team

What makes the concept such an enduringly appealing example of the many rugby sports tours that have taken place in history is its romance. The four Home Nations are bitter rivals on the rugby field. The annual Six Nations clashes between England and the Celtic nations are hard fought encounters, drawing on centuries of historical rivalry to fuel titanic matches.

When it comes to the rugby Lions, though, all that animosity is set aside and a common purpose is forged. This makes for memories of eagerly anticipated and infrequently held clashes between the Lions and a host of Southern Hemisphere teams. It also creates great memories of camaraderie for players and fans. When it comes to rugby, Lions tours seem to conjure up that special spirit of the past when the game was not just about winning.

The Power of Memories

What the Lions team also does for fans of the Home Nations is to boost the chances of teams from these shores taking on the Southern Hemisphere’s greatest teams and winning a test series. Whilst Northern Hemisphere rugby union is much more powerful than it was for much of the 20th century, winning in countries like New Zealand and South Africa is still a massive challenge for players from these shores. With the Lions though, players come together to form a more formidable whole that can put the hosts under real pressure.

This has created some of the most potent memories in British and Irish sport. Rugby union fans still talk fondly of Willie John McBride’s tour party to South Africa in 1974. Whilst the 1983 tour to New Zealand was not successful in playing terms, Roger Baird’s leaping try in the mud of the test series will be remembered by Scotland supporters. Baird, after all, never scored a try for Scotland, despite winning 27 caps for the boys in dark blue.

Rugby union fans of a more recent vintage will have their own scintillating memories of the 1997 excursion to South Africa. Some will have a particular fondness for the try that Ieuan Evans scored to seal the 1989 test series in Australia. Aussie legend, David Campese is probably still blushing about the mess he made of gathering the bouncing ball that Evans scored from.

The Lions offers something different for sports fans and any lover of rugby union should think long and hard abut accompanying the team on tour. The investment in memories will be sure to pay off for years to come.

Anthony Vickers has been watching international rugby union since growing up in Cardiff as a boy. Whilst watching the great Welsh sides of the 1970s really fired his passion for the sport, the Lions tours of that era also remained long in his memory, especially Willie John McBride’s 1974 party to South Africa. He now writes about rugby and travel matters for a range of blogs and websites.