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1899 – Australia

Having provided South Africa ’s first Test opposition in 1896, the next British Isles touring team did the same for Australia , winning that country’s inaugural international series 3-1 in 1899. The tourists also broke new ground themselves by including for the first time players from all four Home Unions.

The 21-man squad included seven internationals – two English, two Irish, two Scottish and one Welsh – and was captained by London clergyman the Rev Matt hew Mullineux. The Blackheath player – the only British Isles skipper never to be capped by his country – both arranged and managed the tour, but dropped himself after the first Test defeat, with Charles Adamson coming in at outside-half and England forward Frank Stout taking over the captaincy.

Whereas in 1896 it had been South Africa who had grown in strength as the Test series progressed, three years later it was the tourists who proved the late developers. They went into the first international at the Sydney Cricket Ground with just three games under their belt and lost 13-3 to two converted tries in the last seven minutes.

When Mullineux’s men lost to Queensland a week later, the Australian public’s opinion of the visitors fell further still. However, with the tourists beginning to develop some cohesion and the skills of legendary Welsh centre Gwyn Nicholls dazzling opponents and spectators alike, they began to revive their reputation and lost only once more over the final 15 contests of the 21-match schedule.

lions history teamphoto

Mullineux’s decision to step down in favour of Adamson proved crucial, as the Durham player scored two tries and kicked four conversions and a penalty in the last three Tests. Powered by a rejuvenated forward pack, the tourists squared the series with an 11-0 win in Brisbane and then squeezed home 11-10 on their return to Sydney .

The tourists confirmed their domination in the final rubber, mastering muddy, windswept conditions to win 13-0, with Nicholls proving just as dangerous in the wet as in the dry.