England had emerged as the form home union side in 1980, winning the Grand Slam and inflicting the only defeat on New Zealand on the All Blacks' tour.
England captain and player of the year Bill Beaumont was the natural choice for Irish coach Noel Murphy to captain his Lions squad, as the tour went ahead amidst the background of rising protests against apartheid.
Given the demands of the modern age, a short tour was organised, with 18 games crammed into 10 weeks.
This played a part in the huge injury problems endured by the tourists, particularly in the backs, leading to a record number of replacements being called upon.
The tourists were mauled in the opening Test in Cape Town, the Boks outscoring them by five tries to one.
A record 18 points from Irish fly-half Tony Ward kept the score respectable, but it was still a 26-22 defeat.
For the second Test in Bloemfontein the selectors chose to keep faith with the Lions pack but changes were thought to be needed behind.
The five new faces helped narrow the try deficit to 4-2, but the tourists could not prevent a 26-19 defeat.
The Lions' injuries mounted, but their form against the provincial teams was encouraging.
Lions captain Bill Beaumont on the 1980 tour
Morale was high going into the third Test in Port Elizabeth, but the home team were not to be denied, their powerful and established team able to secure the series with a 12-10 success.
Despite the lost Test series, the Lions' overall improvement continued with three more provincial wins.
In the final Test in Pretoria they outscored the Boks by three tries to one and, after leading his team to a 17-13 win, Beaumont was chaired from the pitch.
With the growing political problems in South Africa, it would be the last Lions tour there until 1997.