Rewind – what happened on the Lions’ 2009 South Africa Tour?


The British & Irish Lions are three matches into their tour of South Africa, and are already racking up commanding victories, ahead of their biggest test – facing the Springboks over three matches. The Lions Tour odds are in the favour of Warren Gatland’s side – although South Africa were World Cup winners in 2019. The Lions and South Africa last met on tour in 2009. Let’s recap the action to see who came out on top.

The background

Ian McGeechan was named the head coach – and he had been in charge on previous tours, both the 1989 and 1997 trips to South Africa, as well as New Zealand in 1993. The captain was Paul O’Connell – a born leader, who also captained his club and country, Munster and Ireland, respectively.

The Lions played six warm-up games in the lead-up to the first test. A seventh match was played before the second test, and a week later, the third and final test was played. And no fewer than seven venues across the country staged the action – with the three tests being held in Durban, Pretoria and Johannesburg.

The warm-up

The Lions came from behind to beat Royal XV, courtesy of a late fightback, and two tries from Alun Wyn Jones and Ronan O’Gara – to ensure they kept up their record of winning every tour opening match since 1971. Having been 18-10 down at half time, the Lions roared to a 37-25 victory.

The Golden Lions were no match for McGeehan’s Lions and over 22,000 people watched on at the Ellis Park Stadium, as the British & Irish contingent were truly ruthless. The Johannesburg Lions were unable to score a single point in the second half, as the match finished: Golden Lions 10-74 British & Irish Lions. 

A closer affair in Bloemfontein, as the Lions took on fellow big cats, the Free State Cheetahs. It was the visitors that stormed to an early lead, with Stephen Ferris and Keith Earls scoring tries in the opening 15 minutes. And while the Cheetahs hit back and looked like causing a scare late on, the Lions kept up their 100% record with a narrow 26-24 win.

Much like on this year’s tour, the 2009 Sharks also had no bite, as they were completely overawed in Durban. It was a low-scoring first half before the Lions broke through a strong Sharks’ defence – and after that, the floodgates opened. Five different try scorers for the Lions meant it ended in a fourth straight win, 39-3.

A wet and windy encounter at Newlands in Cape Town saw the British & Irish Lions preserve their unbeaten record – in what proved to be their biggest test so far. A penalty from replacement James Hook with three minutes remaining made all the difference as the Lions overcame Western Province 26-23.

Prior to facing South Africa in the opening test, the Lions held on to their pride, as they recorded a 20-8 victory over Southern Kings – who had tried their best to batter their opponents. Euan Murray and James Hook were both injured in the opening 12 minutes, with the first half ending 3-3.

The Emerging Springboks put a spanner in the works in between tests. A last minute try from the second-string South African side, ensured the hosts stole a point in a low-scoring 13-13 draw.

The tests

As the Kings Park Stadium in Durban played host to the opening test, the Lions gave themselves a mountain to climb – despite their best attempts at a second-half comeback. An early try and four penalties saw South Africa hold a commanding lead, and the rout continued after the break. The Lions managed to reduce the deficit from 26-7 down, courtesy of tries from Tom Croft and William Phillips – but the first test finished:

South Africa 26-21 British & Irish Lions

The Lions’ hopes of squaring the series came crashing down in the second test, despite McGeehan’s side holding the lead at the break. A draw would have kept their hopes alive, but it wasn’t to be as fly-half Morne Steyn landed a winning penalty with the last kick of the match. The Lions had been leading 16-8 at half time, with François Steyn reducing the Springboks’ deficit in 40+1 minutes. And it was a similar tale in the second half – with crucial mistakes costing the Lions.

South Africa 28-25 British & Irish Lions

Following that disappointment, the Lions restored some pride and ended their tour on a high, with victory over South Africa in the third and final test. With the pressure of a potential first series whitewash by the Springboks in 118 years falling firmly on their shoulders, the Lions landed a dominant victory. A first-half brace from winger Shane Williams handed the tourists a 15-6 lead at the break. Two late penalties sealed the deal, with Stephen Jones scoring all five, as the Lions were resounding winners – even if it was a dead rubber match.

South Africa 9-28 British & Irish Lions