#8 ‘Lions Flashback’- Australia v British and Irish Lions; 1989; 3rd Test


Getting closer in our countdown to the British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand, it is only fitting that Last Word On Rugby offer rugby fans a ‘Lions flashback’ or two. Continuing today, follow us as we recall ten of the best clashes from historic tours.

#8: From 1989, the final test of the tour to Australia was a pivotal result. The era of All Black dominance had begun in the Southern Hemisphere, and the Bob Dwyer coached Wallabies were in a stage of rebuilding. Inviting the British and Irish Lions over, it continued a strong history of clashes between the two sides.

The first inbound tour to the Australian continent only [not combined with a trip to New Zealand] it placed all the focus on the eternal battle of the United Kingdom v the Colonies. And the bitter rivalry was seen often, in a ‘hard as nails’ series. Supported by a huge crowd (as seen in the attached footage) it was a popular tour–as was the 2001 and 2013 series. A trip to Australia was a sun-soaked tour, that rivals the Ashes for colour and emotion.

‘Lions Flashback’ – Third Test Decider

After the opening win to the home side, the British and Irish Lions did fantastically well to even the rubber, winning in Brisbane 12-19. This set-up the final match back in Sydney as the tipping point for the series result.

With pride on the line, Australia needed to chase a win, and the Lions controlled much of the pace of the game. With the boot of Gavin Hastings, they opened the scoring amid tussles and many blood noses. It was tough grind, and the small mistakes added to the barrage coming from the men in wearing University red.

Michael Lynagh had several attempts at goal, but strangely his boot was not always on target in this series, but with Nick Farr-Jones (see picture below) their combination did threaten the visitors often. The halfbacks battle was a fierce one, with pushes, shoves and more given during the series.

Nick Farr-Jones of Australia is tackled by Robert Jones of the British Lions during the British Lions 1989 tour (Photo Credit:Billy Stickland /Allsport)

With an experienced pack, the Wallabies had many strengths, so the Ian McGeechan coached Lions needed to show good composure. The Aussie side pushed hard, although some hail mary passes would breakdown their attack often. But still, with their invention the last play of the first half saw a precision backline scissor-move send Ian Williams over the line. It was the best reply possible, to send his mates back into the sheds at  9-9.

Match Balanced, and Deserving of a Classic Finish

The men in red were are scattering of home nations greats, with the likes of Brian Moore, Dean Richards and Jeremy Guscott. Ieuan Evans and Robert Jones (Wales) running beside the Hastings brothers. With that talent, it meant that the Wallabies needed to defend stoutly. Aggressive tackling keeping the Lions behind the advantage line–for most of the game.

On occasion, interpretation of the breakdown laws had Mike Teague penalized. What today might earn a yellow card for cynical play, it gave the home side a 12-9 lead. But with the cries from the crowd “Lions, Lions, Lions”. That noise could have put off the players, as in a classic commentators moment, the great David Campese used what was called “Mickey Mouse rugby” on his own goal line.

Trying to link with Greg Martin, they blundered badly, and Welsh winger Evans pounced. It was a horrible moment, that took the home side from sublime to the ridiculous. And like today, moments can turn the tide in a match.

Lions Take the Lead and Hold Off Wallaby Fireworks

Line-out action from the First Test Match between Australia and the British Lions at the Sydney Football Stadium in Sydney. (Photo Credit:Billy Stickland /Allsport)

Ahead now, the Lions would go on to hold off all attempts on their line. There were fireworks in every lineout, where the Australian locks the ‘Twin Towers’ of Bill Campbell and Steve Cutler had a great battle with Paul Ackford (in the days before lifting players). It showed the great skillset from years ago. One man who came to the fore was Lions captain, Finlay Calder. The Scottish open-side flanker was a pest [somewhat like the Rabbit who made it’s way onto the field]. His leadership was cool-headed, while Hastings soon kicked his fifth penalty to extend the lead.

The home side were peppered with high balls, and fullback Martin was under pressure, and the visitors were playing more as a unit. Often taking turnover ball, they lifted each other and as the Lions were more aggressive, they also committed more infringements.

Lynagh took the chance to convert two further penalties, with 14 points himself in a sterling effort from the first-five. French referee was critical of the Lions defensive play, and images of Ian McGeechan with his head in his hands show the gravity of the occasion. Giving fans hope, it helped the match build up to a huge crescendo.

Crowd Urges on Wallabies–Lions Repel Efforts

Right at the death, Australia were desperate and ran the ball from anywhere. Not quite enough to breakthrough the strong line from the visitors, who as shown in this Lions flashback, were near exhaustion near the conclusion. Breathless action, and what a finish!! The Lions hold on, winning the close game, 18-19.

When asked post-match what his reaction to the win was, David Sol answered emphatically “Massive!”. The look on players faces (see below) said it all. Pure elation.

Rory Underwood, Dean Richards, Rob Andrew, Ievan Evans and Brian Moore all of the British Lions celebrate victory after the third test match against Australia at Sydney Football Stadium in Sydney, Australia. The BritishLions won the match 19-18. Mandatory Credit: Billy Stickland /Allsport

This test was a gripping encounter. Not necessarily with many tries, but the pressure was immense. It was followed 12 years later, as the Martin Johnson captained side were held 2-1, with Matthew Burke the hero of the final test. That was followed by 2013, where a Warren Gatland coached side would rebuild the Lions aura, with yet another 1-2 test series win.


Follow our ‘Lions flashback’ series, building up towards the opening game of the British and Irish Lions tour, on June 3.


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