The Cult Of... The British and Irish Lions

The Cult Of... The British and Irish Lions
Adrian Collins
By Adrian Collins
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The relationship between the British and Irish Lions and the fans here at home has not always been the way it is today. There have been tense moments, heart in mouth moments, and moments that left the nation reeling.

Still, there is an enduring fascination form the supporters, a desire for the players that wear green to show what they can do in the red jersey of the Lions, and cement their rightful place among the finest players in the hemisphere.

Speaking to Mikey Traynor for The Cult Of... on Balls with Bulmers, former Lions player Paul Wallace highlighted how the following for the unique team has grown over the years, and while the men in green may only make up 26% of the squad, it has become a source of 100% pride for the Irish fan.

For him, the tour that cemented the status of the Lions was in 1993, when he was watching at home as a fan, with a strong interest from a family point of view.

"It had become a bit bigger by then, it was on television, even if it was the early hours. I remember finishing my exams in college and watching a test series at two or three in the morning!

"The folklore was probably one of the biggest things. We were getting a little bit of archive footage from 1970 or '74, which the most successful side [...] but it was only really in '93 that I fully understood what it meant, when my brother Richie was down there playing."


Four years later, Paul himself was getting the call to go and represent the very same team he had been cheering for as a student on their last Tour.

"You don't know how any tour is going to go. They're all very different," Wallace noted.

It doesn't matter what you've done before for club or country, or even other Lions tours. It's all about that moment. I think that's what makes it great, everyone's starting with a clean slate.

"I was meant to be going on an Irish development tour at that stage to New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. It was looking like a tough tour, a lot of players were crying off with injuries, but then I got a phone call. Peter Clohessy, who had originally been called up, had gotten an injury.

Ireland’'s Paul Wallace, left, and fellow Lions star Keith Wood sing "Ireland's Call". Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE



"It's quite funny though. The fact that had happened, and I felt that my form through the season was there, and it had been indicated to me that I was going on the Tour. It gave a real point to prove when I went on it, and sometimes that little bit of hunger, it can get that extra couple of percent out of you, which is all important."

One of the key features of the Lions is the fact that it brings together fans who are more used to being on opposite sides during the Six Nations. It's not all that different for the majority of the players, although one or two may be club mates. Once they've pulled on that jersey, however, there's a different sensation.

"There is that camaraderie not just within the Tour, but from Lions Tours through the years," says Wallace. "Even the guys from the 1960s and '70s, they all know everything about your Tour, we will know what we were told about their Tour. The relationship is very, very tight. They were so inspirational to us."


When it came to inspiring performances from the players, few were better than the legendary Jim Telfer, whose epic speeches have become part of the cult and folklore surrounding the team itself.

Jim Telfer. Image: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE



Wallace and the rest of the scrummaging pack had been attacked in the media, highlighted as the 'weak point' that would need to be exploited. Literally putting it up on the dressing room wall, Telfer delivered a legendary monologue about each player facing their individual 'Everest'.

Unforgettable as it was, Wallace was driven by something else when he set foot on the pitch.

My thing was not just about leaving down the Lions, the four countries and the supporters behind that. It was not leaving down the history of the jersey and the squad.

"Those sort of emotional things can only get you so far, but you're so pumped up for it, you're so nervous, that it doesn't really matter what's there. Going out there with the task that's in hand, if you need something written on a wall to get you up for that..."

You can listen to the first full episode of The Cult Of... podcast series with Balls and Bulmers above, as we delve into some of the most fascinating cult sporting moments. Whether it's Maurice Fitzgerald's majestic sideline point or the Clare team that came from nowhere in 1995, it's always 100% Irish.

Please drink Bulmers responsibly.

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