In 2001 the Lions toured to Australia, the side was sponsored by the cable company NTL and their logo was on the torsos of the usual red shirt. Times had changed as this tour saw the Lions coached by a New Zealander Graham Henry, who was the coach of Wales. Captain Martin Johnson, became the first man to lead the tourists twice. Sadly, the party also made one other, unwanted piece of history by becoming the first Lions to lose a series to Australia. Managed by Donal Lenihan, leader of the midweek team of 1989, the tour generated excitement like no other, with more than 20,000 British & Irish fans heading south in support.
Johnson led a strong pack featuring the likes of Keith Wood, Neil Back, Richard Hill and Scott Quinnell, with England stand-off Jonny Wilkinson the link with an all-Ireland midfield of Brian O’Driscoll and Rob Henderson, supported by Anglo-Welsh wings in Jason Robinson and Dafydd James. The tour started impressively with massive wins against Western Australia and a Queensland Presidents XV. Queensland Reds then offered more resistance but went down 8-42. We then had the news of discontent in the ranks and a loss to Australia ‘A’ 28-25. Following this the Lions got back on track and won all the games up to the first test. They also went on to win against ACT Brumbies before the second test.
The test series opened at the Gabba in Brisbane and within a couple of minutes the Lions were on the score sheet thanks to a Jason Robinson try in the corner. Further tries from James, Quinnell and O’Driscoll, the last a spectacular solo effort from 50 metres out brought a 29-13 win for the Lions.
The second Test and the hosts trailed 11-6 at half-time but emerged to score 15 points in 10 minutes aided, by Lions mistakes going on to rack up a 35-14 win.
The decider could hardly have been closer as the two teams exchanged scores to stand level at 23-23 with 12 minutes to play, Robinson and Wilkinson having scored tries for the tourists. Matt Burke then kicked two penalties to give Australia a 29-23 advantage, but the Lions engineered one last chance for the try and conversion they needed to win with a lineout in the Wallabies’ 22. Wood threw to Johnson but Australia lock Justin Harrison pulled off the steal of the series to take possession and make his side’s victory safe. For all their efforts, the Lions had come up a crucial few metres short.