Vodafone recently announced it is to be Lead Partner for the British & Irish Lions 2021, ahead of their tour to South Africa. But who are the Lions rugby team and how did they come about?
The Lions combine the very best rugby union players from Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and England.
Every four years, this hand-picked elite squad goes on tour to take on the national teams from the southern hemisphere: Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.
The next tour to South Africa, in July and August 2021, will see the Lions go head-to-head with the Springboks, the country’s national team, playing three test fixtures against them and five matches against provincial teams.
It promises to be a fiercely contested battle – the Springboks are the current Rugby World Cup champions and the world’s top-rated team.
England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland are in the world’s third, fourth, sixth, and eighth places respectively. So putting all their best players together, coached by antipodean supremo, Warren Gatland, and pitting them against the world’s best team, will make for an enthralling spectacle.
Vodafone will be the proud shirt sponsor and lead connectivity provider for the Lions.
The previous tour, in 2017, was to visit New Zealand’s All Blacks – a close-fought series that ended in a draw, with the final fixture in Auckland finishing 15-15.
More than 100 years of history
The very first Lions tour, in 1888, visited Australia and New Zealand. It was then known as the Shaw and Shrewsbury Team (pictured below), after two former Ashes cricket captains who organised it.
The team took 42 days to arrive by steam ship and the tour lasted seven months. As well as playing 35 rugby matches against local sides, they played 19 games of Australian rules football, one cricket match, and even took part in a kangaroo hunt.
More touring sides from Britain and Ireland visited today’s South Africa in 1891, 1896, and 1903. South Africa’s provinces didn’t come together as a country until 1910.
There was another rugby visit in the year the Union of South Africa came into existence. And this was also the first time the English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh rugby unions officially formed a committee to select a touring side.
Before that, organising the tours had been pretty informal.