All the men who have captained the famous rugby side in Test matches on tour

British & Irish Lions Captains – 1993-1962

1993 – Gavin Hastings (Lion #606, Scotland), New Zealand

A second successive Scottish captain, the most recent player from his country to captain the Lions. The other contender was Will Carling, but he was harmed by England’s loss to Ireland in that year’s Five Nations.

Hastings was chosen for his experience of playing in New Zealand, as well as his participation in the 1989 tour, in which he played all three Tests. A goalkicking full-back, who is also father of current Scotland fly-half Adam, Hastings won 61 caps for Scotland in a storied career.

The Lions lost the series 2-1, but Hastings set a record for most points by a tourist in a series, becoming the Lions all-time record Test-match point-scorer. He played in the 20-7 second-Test win despite a severe hamstring strain, but the decider was a game too far for his squad.

1989 – Finlay Calder (Lion #613, Scotland), Australia

Calder’s team were the first Lions to visit Australia alone since 1899, in a tour also notable for being Sir Ian McGeechan’s first stint coaching the side.

It was a series win, after three demoralising defeats in a row, achieved despite losing the first Test 30-12 in Sydney. This made them the most recent Lions team to achieve such a comeback – and Calder is the only 20th Century captain to achieve this feat. The second-Test win, in a game known as the ‘Battle of Ballymore’, set the Lions on their way.

The first Scottish captain since Mike Campbell-Lamerton in 1966, Calder had only made his Scotland debut three years before. His partnership with Player of the Series Mike Teague on the flanks was perhaps the decisive combination of the series.

British & Irish Lions Captain

Finlay Calder celebrates with Lions coach Sir Ian McGeechan (Inpho)

1983 – Ciaran Fitzgerald (Lion #579, Ireland), New Zealand

Coached by Jim Telfer, the 1983 Lions lost the series 4-0, and were given a torrid time by New Zealand’s media. After an extremely long three-month tour, they’d manage only 26 points across four Tests.

Fitzgerald was made British & Irish Lions captain after winning that year’s Five Nations title with Ireland, and resembled the polymath leaders of earlier tours. The hooker won two all-Ireland boxing championships, was a captain in the Irish army and worked as a senior assistant to President Dr Patrick Hillery. He’d later coach Ireland between 1990 and 1992.

1980 – Bill Beaumont (Lion #548, England), South Africa

The 1980 tour required a record number of injury replacements, and was played amidst a backdrop of apartheid protests. The Lions couldn’t repeat their 1974 win, losing the series 3-1, despite winning every preliminary game. A 17-13 triumph in the final Test represented some consolation.

The first Englishman to captain the Lions since Doug Prentice in 1930, the Fylde lock had captained his country to a Grand Slam that year and was a natural-born leader. Winning 34 caps for England, Beaumont is currently chairman of World Rugby.

British & Irish Lions captains

Bill Beaumont leads the Lions out against a Cork Constitution President’s XV (Sportsfile via Getty Images)

1977 – Phil Bennett (Lion #506, Wales), New Zealand

Bennett was one of the greatest fly-halves, known for his dazzling sidestepping ability. However, this tour was possibly a trip too far, with Bennett saying he wished that he’d never accepted the Lions captaincy. Mervyn Davies had been the overwhelming favourite for the job, but a brain haemorrhage in a Welsh Cup semi-final ended his career.

It was a disappointing tour beset by rain, with the Lions losing the Test series 3-1 and also falling to a 25-11 defeat to Fiji. However, Bennett still showed flashes of brilliance, kicking beautifully and setting up a try for JJ Williams in a 13-9 second-Test victory.

1974 – Willie John McBride (Lion #433, Ireland), South Africa

Known for his ‘take no prisoners’ mantra, Willie John played 17 Lions Tests over a 12-year period that included five tours.

First visiting South Africa in 1962 and pack leader for the triumph over New Zealand in 1971, the Ulsterman led the Lions to a landslide 3-0 series win in 1974, based as much on scrum dominance as sparkling back-line play. His team were undefeated on tour, with McBride appearing in every Test. They became known as ‘The Invincibles’, with their captain the immortal at their head.

He later coached Ireland, managed the Lions and was an inaugural International Rugby Hall of Fame inductee.

1971 – John Dawes (Lion #487, Wales), New Zealand

The late Welsh centre was the only man to have led the Lions on a victorious tour of New Zealand. His side won 2-1 after drawing the final Test 14-14 in Auckland, helped by one of the most magical back-lines in Lions history – Gareth Edwards, Barry John, Gerald Davies, Mike Gibson, John Dawes, David Duckham and JPR Williams.

The player-coach of London Welsh, who contributed six players to the tour, Dawes also captained Wales to the Grand Slam in 1971 – one of the greatest years by any captain. He never lost to England in his international career.

1968 – Tom Kiernan (Lion #428, Ireland), South Africa

Kiernan’s side drew one Test and lost the other three narrowly, but they set a record in the first Test of the then most points scored against the Springboks in a single game – 17.

Kiernan was a full-back from Cork who had also gone on the 1962 tour, and who won 54 caps for Ireland over the course of his career. This made him Ireland’s most-capped player, most-capped captain and record point-scorer. He was Munster coach for their iconic win over the All Blacks in 1978.


1966 – David Watkins (Lion #455, Wales), New Zealand

When Campbell-Lamerton didn’t play, the captaincy went to Welsh fly-half David Watkins – diminutive at only 5ft 6in compared to the 6ft 5in Scotsman! A useful try-scorer on tour and a prodigious drop-kicker, he was the captain for Tests in Wellington and Christchurch.

Having played a key role in Newport’s famous 1963 win over the All Blacks, he switched to rugby league a year after the tour, making over 400 appearances for Salford. He also represented Great Britain, whom he later coached.

British & Irish Lions Captains

David Watkins clears the ball against England in 1967 (Getty Images)

1966 – Mike Campbell-Lamerton (Lion #413, Scotland), New Zealand and Australia

Campbell-Lamerton’s side were unbeaten against Australia, but the wheels came off on a violent tour of New Zealand, with the Lions defeated in all four matches in the series for the first time. They also suffered the ignominy of losing to British Columbia.

Like Doug Prentice decades before, Campbell-Lamerton left himself out of the Test squad on numerous occasions, not thinking his play merited selection. Alun Pask had skippered Wales to the Five Nations and had been the favourite to be captain.

Campbell-Lamerton’s life was known for remarkable feats of survival. He survived being impaled by a javelin while still at school, stepped on a landmine while a British army officer in Korea and fell 60 feet out of a helicopter.

His son Jeremy would win three caps for Scotland.

1962 – Dickie Jeeps (Lion #371, England), South Africa

Having made an appearance for the tourists before England, the scrum-half was a Lions legend – the most-capped back ever, with 13 caps across three tours. He always believed that he was only chosen for his first trip as a youngster in 1955 because Cliff Morgan liked his delivery.

Remarkably, with only 24 caps for England, more than a third of his International matches were for the Lions!

Arthur Smith was injured for the fourth Test, so Jeeps took over in his final game. The 1962 tour was one of his best, with the South African press nicknaming him the ‘India-rubber man’ for his ability to produce decent ball despite intense pressure.

British & Irish Lions captains

Dickie Jeeps kicks through in a match against Northern Transvaal (Getty Images)

1962 – Arthur Smith (Lion #365, Scotland), South Africa

The Cambridge PhD mathematician didn’t seem the most natural choice as captain – he’d often unnerve his team-mates with long silences as he solved maths conundrums in his head. However, the winger was rapidly quick, known particularly for his change of pace, and an excellent goalkicker. A try on his International debut against Wales halted a 17-match losing run for Scotland.

Smith’s side lost 3-0 to South Africa, having drawn the first Test, but every game except the final Test was a close game. He’d retire after the Lions tour, having never been dropped by Scotland, but tragically died of cancer aged only 42.

  1. 1. Introduction
  2. 2. British & Irish Lions Captains – 1993-1962
  3. 3. British & Irish Lions Captains – 1959-1924
  4. 4. British & Irish Lions Captains – 1910-1888
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