British and Irish LionsThe British and Irish Lions (formerly British Lions 1) are a Rugby Union side comprising the pick of the best players from the four home unions, i.e. England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. The Lions are exclusively a touring team, and play the traditionally strong southern hemisphere nations of Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.
Originally poorly organised Lions teams received regular thrashings by their hosts, but by 1955 the tourists were taking the matches seriously to obtain a 2-2 draw in South Africa. If the 1960s were forgettable for the Lions, the 1970s saw a renaissance. The 1971 team, centred around the great Welsh half-back pairing of Gareth Edwards and Barry John secured a series win over the All Blacks.
Perhaps the best known, and undoubtedly the most successful, Lions team was that which toured South Africa in 1974, under the great Irish forward Willie-John McBride, which went 21 games unbeaten and triumphed 3-0 in a test series beset by violence, exemplified by the tourists pre-arranged signal to "get their retaliation in first".
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Postwar tours and captains
1 The side was originally known as the "British Isles". On the 1950 tour of Australia they adopted the name the "British Lions" after the lion emblem on their jerseys. Since the 2001 tour they have been known as the "British and Irish Lions" out of respect for the players from the Republic of Ireland. They are often called simply the "Lions".