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British Lions Rugby Shirt

The Ellis Rugby British Lions Rugby Shirt Collection. A collection of garments designed with inspiration drawn from the British Lions.

British Lions History

The Early Years

The first British Lions tour took place in 1888. A total of 22 players toured New Zealand and Australia between 9 March and 11 November. In total 35 games were played against a variety of sides. The lions won 27 of the games, drew 6 and lost 2.

British Isles Rugger Image

The Vintage British Isles Rugger

The first match of the tour drew a 10,000 strong crowd. The inaugural would prove to be disastrous off the pitch with team Captain Robert Seddon drowning in Australia after a sculling accident.

1891 saw the first official British Lions test series. A 21 men party headed to South Africa to play 20 matches. The first test match to take place during the tour drew a crowd of 6,000 spectators. The Lions would be victorious in the game, winning 4 – 0. The touring side went on to win the remaining 2 test matches. The tour ended with the British Lions winning all 20 games. In addition during the tour the team only conceded on point.

The Lions returned to South Africa in 1896. The team would face a much more difficult challenge on their second tour as the quality of Rugby in South Africa had improved massively. The Lions won the four match test series 3 – 1 and also won all of the additional 17 games in the tour.The South African victory in the fourth and final test match of the 1896 tour would prove to crucial for South Africa. This is because The British Lions would not win another test series in South Africa until 1974.

The Lions toured Australia in 1899, providing Australia with their first test series opposition. The first test match in the series was won by Australia 13 – 3. The second test took place in Queensland in front of a crowd of 15,000. The Lions won the second test 11 – 0 and the third 11 -10. Australia drafted in a number of New Zealand players for the fourth test in a desperate bid to draw the series. The efforts would prove fruitless however as the British Lions won the game 13 – 0. This tour was the first time that a British Isles team featured at least one player from each of the 4 home nations.

Rugby in the New Century

The first test of the 20th century was a tour of South Africa in 1903. The first three matches in the tour resulted in British loses, the remaining games featured a mixture of results. The tour ended with England winning 11 of the 22 games played. The test series would also prove to difficult for the Lions. The first two matches ended in 10 -10 and 0 – 0 draws. South Africa triumphed in the third and final game. The Lions had suffered their first ever test series defeat.

The British Lions once again toured New Zealand and Australia in 1908. All though this time it had to be done without Scottish or Welsh support. This was the first time that the British Lions Rugby shirt was red with white hoops. The test series ended in a 2 – 0 win for New Zealand. During the tour the Lions released that all 4 home nations were needed to be successful in the future.

1910 saw a tour of South Africa which was the first to be sanctioned by all 4 of the home nations. The British Lions Rugby shirt was changed to blue and featured a quartered Crest of the 4 home nations. The Lions were defeated in the first test but won the second, leaving the series upon for either side to win. The Springboks were victorious in the third test match as the Lions struggled with injuries. Most of the final game took place with the tourists featuring juts 14 men on the pitch. The British Lions went on to tour Argentina in the same year. The Lions won all 6 of the games played in Argentina. The Argentina tour would be the last tour conducted by the British Lions before the first World War.

Post WWI

The first Lions tour after the war was to South Africa in 1924. The tour lasted for more than three months with only 9 of the 21 games ending in victory for the Lions. The first two matches of the test series were defeats for the touring team. The third game ended in a 3 – 3 draw. The final match in the series also ended in British Lions defeat.

1927 saw the British Lions tour Argentina for the second time. Oddly this second tour is dubbed as featuring the first international game played by the Argentina national team despite games between a national side and the British Lions in 1910. This is because the 1927 tour was the first time were the Argentina national team played matches that were recognised by the Argentina Rugby Union. The Lions won all 9 of the matches played in Argentina during the tour and conceded only 9 points.

The 1930s

The 1930 tour of New Zealand and Australia was the first time the team left the British Isles with the title of the British Lions. In addition this was the first time that the British Lions Rugby shirt featured the three lions on the design. It proved to be difficult to find players for the squad with up to 100 players being asked before the 29 strong squad was filled. The first test match in the series ended in a surprising win for the Lions against the All Blacks. However, the Lions success in the series would not last with New Zealand winning the second match. New Zealand won the series after winnign the two remaining test macthes. The Lions moved on to Australia where they were also defeated by the hosts in the test.

Flying Prince Rugger Image

The Flying Prince Rugger

In 1936 the Lions embarked on a tour of Argentina in what has proven to be the last time the British Lions have visited South America. 10 matches took place during the tour with the Lions winning all of them. The star of the touring team was Prince Alexander Obelensky. The tour was to be the last time that Obelensky, also known as The Flying Prince, played for the Lions as he was tragically killed during training after joining the RAF on the outbreak of WWII.

The Lions visited South Africa in 1938, a time when the Springboks were viewed as the best in the world following wins against all 4 home nations, New Zealand and Australia. The tour consisted of 24 games including a 3 match test series. The Lions were defeated in the first two test matches but came back to win 26 – 10 in the third and final match in the series.


The first tour after World War 2 was in 1950 with the Lions heading to New Zealand and Australia. For the first time the colours of all 4 home nations featured on the strip. The Red of England featured on the British Lions Rugby shirt, the White of Wales was on the shorts and the Blue of Scotland as well as the Green of Ireland were on the socks. The Lions were leading the first test match against New Zealand, however the hosts brought the game back to 9 – 9 draw. The All Blacks then went on to win the second test match 8 – 0. In the third test the tourists were once again leading but New Zealand back to a 6 – 3 win. New Zealand won the series 3 – 0.

The next tour took place in 1955, this was the first time that the British Lions traveled by air. The decision to travel by air meant that the journey time to South Africa was shortened by a month. The test series ended in a 2 – 2 draw. This was the first time since the beginning of the century that the Lions hadn’t lost to South Africa.

The 1960s

1966 saw the Lions once again embark on a tour of Australia and New Zealand after the last tour in 1959 ended in disappointment. The Lions left Australia for New Zealand after securing an unbeaten run in Australia, winning the test series. It was the first time that the British Lions left Australia unbeaten since 1904. The success in Australia was soon forgotten as the Lions toured New Zealand. At the time New Zealand were in the middle of an unbeaten run. The All Blacks won the first two tests despite the Lions leading the second test at half time. The third match followed a similar pattern to the second with the teams equal after 40 minutes. Once again the game ended in All Black victory. New Zealand also won the fourth and final match, marking the first time that New Zealand won every match against a touring team.

Making History

Another tour of New Zealand took place in 1971. After losing one of the warm-up games the Lions won the first test 9 -3. The second test swung in favour of New Zealand. The third test saw the British Lions triumph again of the All Blacks. New Zealand was held to a 14 – 14 draw in the fourth test, securing a test series victory for the Lions. After numerous attempts spanning three quarters of a century the British Lions had finally conquered the All Blacks. Today the 1971 tour remains the only time the British Lions have won a series in New Zealand.

The British Lions success continued as the team toured South Africa in 1974. The tone of the tour was set in the first game, with the Lions emerging victorious in a 59 – 13 game. South Africa lost the first three tests, the Lions needed to win the final match to secure a whitewash. However, the Springboks fought hard in the game, holding the tourists to a draw. Out of the 22 matches played during the tour the Lions won 21 with the final match ending in a draw. The 1974 tour is the most successful post war British Lions tour.

The Successful times were short lived for the British Lions. 1977 featured another tour of New Zealand. Despite only losing one game before the start of the test series the first test match ended in New Zealand victory. The series was rescued in the second test with win from the Lions. However the third test fell in favour of the All Blacks with the Lions missing vital players. In the final test the Lions were leading at half time but the game ended in New Zealand victory.

The End of the Amateur Era

In 1989 The Lions headed to Australia, the first time since 1899 that the Lions had toured Australia on its own. Having won all 6 of the pre-test series matches there was high hopes for the first test. Australia were triumphant in the opening test. The Lions went on to win the next 2 tests of the 3 match series making them the winners. For the first time a British Lions team had won a test series after losing he first match. Out of the 12 games played during the 1989 tour the only one that the Lions didn’t win was the opening test.

The final tour of the amateur era saw the Lions visit New Zealand in 1993. The first test was a tight match, the Lions fought back from behind to be leading 18 – 17 with a minute to go. However a final All Blacks penalty secured the game for New Zealand. The British Lions won the second test after employing some risky tactics which luckily paid off. In the third and final test the tourists quickly opened up a ten point lead. However by the break New Zealand were leading 14 -10 and went on to win the match 30 – 13, securing test series victory for the All Blacks.

The Professional Era

Not only was the 1997 British Lions tour the first of the Rugby Union professional era it was also the first tour since the end of apartheid in South Africa. The Springboks had won the Rugby World Cup in 1995 so a challenging tour was expected. The Lions won the four opening games of the tour. The touring Lions went on to win the first test 25 – 16. South Africa were drawing with the Lions 15 – 15 in the second test with 3 minutes to go. In the closing minutes the Lions brought the game into their favour, the test ended 18 – 15. South Africa needed to win the final test to prevent a series whitewash. A win was what they got with the final game ending 35 – 16 to South Africa.

Having failed to secure a test series victory throughout the 2000’s the British Lions headed for Australia in 2013 with high hopes. The first test finished in Lions success with the final score line reading 23 – 21. Heading into the final test the series was open for either side to win after Australia won the second test. The Lions won the series after a 41 – 16 victory in the final test.

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