The Lions
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1924 - South Africa

The 1924 tourists to South Africa set out under the cumbersome title of the British Isles Rugby Union Team but returned as the Lions, having picked up their nickname from the heraldic beast picked out on their official ties.

Victories, however, proved far more difficult to collect and the newborn Lions acquired the unwanted record of being the least successful British & Irish visitors to South Africa, winning nine and losing nine of the 21 matches they played. In the middle of the tour they went through a run of eight matches without a victory.

Captained by England forward Ronald Cove-Smith, the visitors were again less than fully representative of the combined cream of the Home Unions, although they still included famous names such as England duo Tom Voyce and AT Young, and Ireland’s ‘Jammie’ Clinch.

Two other factors were also working against them. Firstly, Home Unions rugby was in the doldrums at the time, while the Springboks were building towards what would be a golden era in the 1930s.

Secondly, the hard grounds devastated the Lions’ slender resources, leaving them with an injury list so long they often struggled to field 15 fit players and were forced to play backs among the forwards and vice versa, with Voyce and Clinch each taking a turn at full-back.

Despite their troubles, the Lions at least made a fight of the Test series, even though they ultimately lost 3-0 with one match drawn.

The tourists outscored their hosts in the second half of the opening rubber, but a first-half try and dropped goal had given South Africa a sufficient cushion to hang on for a 7-3 win. And in the second Test, the Lions were unexpectedly still in touch at the break, only for the Springboks to then run in four tries for a 17-0 win.

The third Test ended in a 3-3 draw but should have been won by the Lions, whose full-back, Dan Drysdale, missed a penalty in front of the posts that would have sealed victory.

Even that blow failed to dent the enthusiasm of Cove-Smith and his men, however, and they put up another brave fight in the final Test before losing 16-9 and by four tries to two.