What is our link with the British & Irish Lions?

Friday, 23rd July 2021 @ 12:43

Historian Graeme Roberts looks back on Harlequins' links with the Lions which dates back to 1888

The 2021 Lions tour is the team’s 33rd tour. The first was in 1888 and Harlequins have had an association with the British and Irish Lions since that tour.

Forty-seven players who were, had or would play for Quins have toured of whom twenty-seven were playing for the Club when they toured. Two Club players have been picked but could not tour.

Marcus Smith, having been called up to the current squad, is the latest Harlequin to tour with the Lions.

Marcus Smith Lions
Since that first tour the nature and demands of the Lions have changed considerably. In 1888, the tour to Australia and New Zealand was organised by a couple of sports promoters and lasted eight months during which 22 Amateur tourists played 35 rugby union games and 18 Australian Rules matches but no Test matches.

In 2021, under the auspices of the British and Irish Lions, the squad will play eight matches in South Africa over five weeks plus a warm-up game against Japan.

Similarly, the kit has changed from a jersey of red, white and blue hoops with white knickerbockers through numerous changes to the familiar red jerseys, white shorts and blue socks with green tops.

Andrew Stoddart
Harlequins have had a current, past or future member on 23 of the tours. On that very first tour, Andrew Stoddart who had started his international career with Quins but played for Blackheath, then a more prestigious club, took over the captaincy in tragic circumstances.

The original captain, Bob Sneddon, drowned in a boating accident. Andrew took over and became the tour hero. He was popular with the colonialists as he showed mastery in both rugby and Australian Rules. He scored twenty-two tries in 28 matches, making him the highest Quins try scorer on tour. He also played cricket for England.

The next tour came in 1891 to South Africa when the first current Quins player travelled. This was Aubonne Surtees, the club’s captain. He played in all three Test matches but was never capped for England.

It was nearly 20 years before the next Quins went. This was the inaugural tour to Argentina to celebrate the centenary of this country’s Revolution De Mayo. Four Quins went on this short six-match trip.

Jason Leonard
Over the next 110 years, Harlequins had representatives on every tour except three. Surprisingly, many of the Club’s legends did not become British Lions. This was not just down to not being selected especially in the Amateur days. Tours of at least four months duration meant that many could not or chose not to take time off work to tour.

This happened to the Club’s captain in 1950, Johnnie Matthews. He could not afford a locum to look after his dental practice whilst he was away for six months in Australia and New Zealand. A future Quin, Vic Roberts, took his place.

In 1968, another Quin, Bob Lloyd, had to drop out of the tour to South Africa to take his final university examinations.

Despite this constraint, there have been as many as five Quins on the tours in 1955, 1993 and 2001.

Andre Esterhuizen says it was an easy decision to re-sign with Harlequins.

Pair surprised but delighted to be called into England training squad

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