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The Toughest Lions XV Of The Professional Era

The Toughest Lions XV Of The Professional Era
Will Slattery
By Will Slattery
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Every four years when the Lions Tour comes around you hear the same things from the Sky pundits: courage, passion, intensity. These are the traits that would-be test starters need to exude if they wish to wear the famed red jersey. Plenty of times those sort of intangibles have tipped the scale in favour of a less talented player. If Ian McGeechan has shown us anything it's that knowing what the Lions ethos is about can take you a long way on a tour. So we have decided to put together the toughest Lions XV of the professional era; the players who were hard as an igneous rock on the pitch and never took a backward step, unless it was to give them more leverage to bust an antipodean or Springbok opponent.

15- Rob Kearney

The choices were between Neil Jenkins, Rob Kearney, Lee Byrne and Matt Perry. Who? Yes, Matt Perry started three tests for the Lions in 2001. The nod went to the man who soared to take all those high balls above those hungry Springboks below. And the prospect of this happening to him was always in the back of his mind you would imagine.

14- John Bentley

The quintessential league convert, he played the 1997 tour with a smile on his face and a hatred of South Africans in his heart. This montage shows his hitting prowess but also that he was light on his feet, a welcome departure from many league converts. *Cough* Andy Farrell *Cough*


Also has what can only be described as a "rugby league voice"

13- Brian O'Driscoll

Picture credit; Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

Has anyone given more on any Lions Tour than Brian O'Driscoll? Between scoring tries and saving them and between making massive hits and taking them, few men have had such a physically battering Lions tenure. The moments that make him tough? The hit that momentarily shut down Danie Rossouw's brain for one.


Recovering from this injury took some grit too I'd imagine. But at least it gave him material for this gripping page turner.

Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE


12- Scott Gibbs

This Welsh barrel had the power to play 12 and also the grace to play 13, but he preferred to use the former rather than the latter. You don't believe me? This bust was the reason Os Du Randt had to take a rugby sabbatical.


He didn't always run through people, he just liked to. Although this didn't happen for the Lions, it was against England, Wales wear red too and this was a great try. (Also this is my list so I can do what I want)

11- Luke Fitzgerald

Granted the back three was a bit short on toughness but anyone who survives having their eyes wretched from their sockets by that brute Burger has to be kind of tough, right?

10- Jonny Wilkinson

The only person who rivals O'Driscoll in terms of putting his body in physical confrontations that he shouldn't. Played a test with a stinger in 2005, was ruled out of the tour due to a dislocated kneecap in 2009 and turned down a place this time in part because his body is so battered. So yes, he was a tough Lion.

9- Mike Phillips

Phillips made the team basically because he was the tallest scrumhalf the Lions have had in the professional era. Dawson is too giggly and question of sporty to be tough, Howley cried after getting injured in 1997 and the ill-advised idea to have Peel stand beside O'Driscoll before the Haka in 05 almost cost the captain his career. Which leaves Phillips, who is very physical in fairness.

1- Gethin Jenkins

You don't prop on three Lions tours without having some staying power. His performances in South Africa were nothing short of heroic given that is partner in the first test, Phil Vickery, was devoured by the beast. Jenkins going off injured was the beginning of the end in 2009. And this photo shows that he had a broken jaw and a bandage that covered one eye. He looks more like Tom Cruise in "Born of the fourth of July" than a rugby player.

2- Keith Wood

This was a tough decision. On the one hand Wood was a dynamic ball carrying hooker who gave everything on his two tours and was somehow able to perform to a superhuman level despite having more of a carcass than a body. On the other hand he is responsible for this.


3- Adam Jones

Much like the injury to Jenkins, Jones' injury shifted the balance of power back to South Africa in 2009. Jones makes the team for reducing The Beast to a whimpering animal and destroying a lot of his mystique that he has yet to get back. The images of him getting his shoulder popped back into place is another reason for him to be on the team.

Matt Stevens was the last choice for this position because of this.

And this.

And this.

4- Martin Johnson

Ever wondered why Martin Johnson's ears are so much more messed up than most second rows? In "Living with the Lions" he came off to get his ear stitched up and the physio said Johnson would have to stay off for treatment. Johnson gave him the classic eyebrow furrow and said "Stich that f**king ear up quickly because I am going back out there now". He was a tough player.

5- Paul O'Connell

Another player in the Keith Wood mould, O'Connell manages to get his body right every four years and then puts it on the line for the entire tour. Gains marks for giving great motivational speeches.

Loses marks for costing the Lions the second test in 2005 by giving away this stupid penalty. (15.20 in)


6- Lawrence Dallaglio

Dallaglio had all the qualities you want in a Lions captain and you would wonder why he was never chosen? Oh yes, he was caught in a sting operation by a tabloid claiming that he had previously done a large amount of cocaine. He was a Matt Stevens before we knew what a Matt Stevens was. That aside he was a sensational Lion and only injury robbed him of starting on the 2001 and 2005 tours.

7- Neil Back

Surely you can't argue with the inclusion of a man who obviously put his face in the firing line for the Lions many, many times?

8- Scott Quinnell

Didn't have the range of skills that Dallaglio had but was a heavy hitter and unstoppable in close quarters. Filled the void left by the Englishman on the 2001 tour.

Coach- Jim Telfer

Choosing the coach came down to this question: at their peaks who would win a street fight, Jim Telfer or Shaun Edwards?I'm pretty sure the reason coaches now sit in bulletproof boxes is because of Jim Telfer.

His Lions speeches are legendary. Listen to these and then try to resist the urge to fly to Cape Town and start maiming locals.


He even has the ability to convince the fans.



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