When proud Lions wore blue

As the latest British and Irish Lions rugby tour to South Africa approaches it end, BARRY NEWCOMBE reviews a book on their sporting predecessors from more than 70 years ago

The current British and Irish Lions have been through the mill somewhat on their tour of South Africa.

But it was nothing next to the endurance test of their predecessors in 1938.

The 2009 squad will have played just 10 matches by the time the final Test is over on Saturday night, and they have had players flying backwards and forwards to South Africa as the injuries mounted.

In 1938, the tourists were away from home for four months, travelling by ship and train. They were the last Lions not to fly to the Southern Hemisphere.

In Last of the Blue Lions (from SportsBooks, the specialist publishing house run by the SJA’s Treasurer Randall Northam), author Steve Lewis tells the story of the 1938 tour where, like 2009, the Lions lost the first two Tests and the series.

Those were the time when players had to battle with injuries and play on, to survive hard match after hard match and keep up with the demands of the social side as well.

Sam Walker’s Lions were beaten 26-12 in the first Test in Johannesburg and by 19-3 in the second Test in Port Elizabeth. They salvaged some of their reputation in the last Test in Cape Town with victory by 21-16.

That was the last time the Lions wore blue shirts, though Walker still had his mud stained shirt 20 years later, it meant so much
to him.

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