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Wednesday, 13 December, 2000, 13:29 GMT
Clawing their way back
Jeremy Guscott
Guscott celebrates after his match-winning drop goal
The Lions have been tearing strips off their opponents for decades now.

Recent tours to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa have yielded two series wins and a total of five Test victories, a considerable transformation given their prior record against southern hemisphere nations.

Not since the early 1970s have the Lions been such a potent force on the world stage.

That was a golden era, when teams led by John Dawes and Willie John McBride enjoyed unparalleled success against New Zealand and South Africa respectively.

Exacting revenge

The All Blacks were beaten twice in 1971 as the tourists took their first ever series victory in New Zealand.

Then, three years later, the Lions won three and drew one of their four Tests against the Springboks.

They were both phenomenal achievements, requiring a huge physical and mental outlay.

But it wasn't long before New Zealand and South Africa were exacting revenge.

Willie John McBride
McBride takes on South Africa in 1974
The All Blacks followed up their 1977 series win with a 4-0 whitewash in 1983 while South Africa emerged triumphant in 1980.

The Lions had to wait 17 years before earning another crack at the Springboks.

By then, the opposition were world champions and able to call upon such players as James Small, Joost van der Westhuizen, Gary Teichmann and Andre Venter.

It looked a tall order for the tourists but, with Ian McGeechan plotting from the sidelines and Martin Johnson leading from the front on the field of play, they upset the form book once again.

Victories in Cape Town and Durban sealed the series before South Africa hit back to win the final Test at Ellis Park in Johannesburg.

Five memorable Lions tours:

New Zealand 1971:

The build-up to the first Test was marred by a number of unsavoury incidents during a game against Canterbury.

But the Lions showed their mettle to defeat the All Blacks in Dunedin to take an early advantage.

A great try from Ian Kirkpatrick helped the home side level the series only for the Lions to regain the initiative with victory in Wellington.

The fourth Test in Auckland was always going to be a battle, but it ended 14-14 to give the Lions, led by Welshman John Dawes, their first series win in New Zealand.

South Africa 1974:

Buoyed by their win over the All Blacks, the Lions rewrote the record books in South Africa.

Jason Leonard and Ieuan Evans
Leonard and Evans take the plaudits in 1993
They won 21 consecutive matches before drawing the fourth and final Test.

Led by Irish legend Willie John McBride, they more than matched their opponents in terms of physical aggression, although the use of the code '99, which often resulted in a huge brawl, was much criticised.

The Lions pack, boasting such figures as McBride, Mervyn Davies, Fergus Slattery, Roger Uttley and Fran Cotton, proved crucial.

Australia 1989:

It didn't bode well for Finlay Calder's Lions when they lost the first of three Tests.

But, against an Australian side that was to become world champions two years later, they bounced back brilliantly to win the series 2-1.

The second Test was an ill-tempered affair, punctuated by a number of punch-ups, while the third will be remembered for David Campese's monumental blunder.

The mercurial winger attempted to run the ball out of defence but saw his wayward pass to Greig Martin intercepted by Ieuan Evans, who promptly flopped over the line for the match-clinching try.

New Zealand 1993:

The Lions may have lost the series 2-1 but they made a lot of people sit up and take notice with their record-breaking victory in the second Test.

After losing the opener in controversial circumstances - the Lions were leading 18-17 with seconds to go when their hosts were awarded a debatable penalty - they stunned the All Blacks by running out 20-7 victors in Wellington.

Matt Dawson
Dawson's try was crucial in the first Test of 1997
It was the most points the Lions, led by Gavin Hastings, had ever scored against New Zealand in a Test match.

The All Blacks were suitably inspired for the decider, which they won 30-13 despite trailing by 10 points early on.

South Africa 1997:

Written off before the tour even got underway, the Lions shocked the world champions by taking an unassailable 2-0 lead.

The Springboks made sure it wasn't a whitewash by winning at Ellis Park but the damage had already been done.

Matt Dawson's individual try proved the turning point in the first Test at Newlands while Jeremy Guscott's drop goal sealed victory in the second at King's Park.

Not even a 35-16 defeat in the final encounter could wipe the smile off the face of captain Martin Johnson, who led by example.

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