The England stalwart and British & Irish Lions chairman strolls down memory lane
Lions chairman Jason Leonard Life in Pictures
LEADING THE CHARGE (1997, above)
“This is the first game of the 1997 British & Irish Lions tour and I was captain because Martin Johnson was injured. We put out a strong side against Eastern Province and won – it was a good start. I’m laughing at the picture because it looks like Lawrence Dallaglio is about to fall flat on his face!
“It was probably one of the most iconic Lions tours, especially because of the Living with Lions documentary, which was quite raw and pretty good.
“The biggest testament to that is I’ve got mates who still play at 50-plus, and before going down the rugby club they’ll watch clips from it. Like (Jim) Telfer’s ‘This is your Everest’ speech, or (Ian) McGeechan’s speech about ‘In 30 years’ time, when you see another Lion on the other side of the road, you will just look at each other.’
“Even saying it I can feel the hairs on the back of my arm.”
THE RED SEA, 2001
“A lot has been said about the Australians coming out for this first Test and seeing a sea of red. In this picture is myself, Danny Grewcock and Gordon Bulloch. You can see Phil Vickery and Martyn Williams at the back.
“This was Danny’s first Lions tour, so this is important for him. It was about the joy and elation for him but also for our fans, coming off the pitch; you could see what it means to them. I think I’m sort of saying to Danny, ‘Look at this, this is for you.’ And, of course, Lions fans are absolutely brilliant.”
ALLEZ, LES ROSBIFS, 1991
“This is the 1991 Rugby World Cup semi-final in at the Parc de Princes. We had kicked, Will Carling had caught the ball, and he had been driven over by the English forwards to score the try.
“As you can see, my reaction is rather sedate compared to Brian Moore! I don’t know what Brian was thinking of at the time – it was such a charged atmosphere. That was more to do with the fans.
“I was never a big celebrator. I was always taught as a kid that if you score, you go back and you restart the game again.
“It was my first World Cup. The overriding memory is of bitter disappointment at losing the final, as we had a team that could have won it. It takes away from Australia a bit, who were a very good side and worthy winners, but we could have won if we’d stuck to a forward-orientated game.”
A PACK OF LIONS, 1993
“This is me at tighthead on the 1993 Lions tour. The coaches felt they needed a change at prop. I played quite a bit at tighthead as a junior, so didn’t feel completely out of place. I don’t suppose playing your first real International there against the All Blacks in New Zealand is the best progression for that.
“They had the beginning of a very good front row in Craig Dowd, Sean Fitzpatrick and Olo Brown, one of the best tightheads in the world. That unit played together for a considerable length of time.
“This is the second Test when we won convincingly in Wellington. At the end the crowd wasn’t too happy. Sadly, by the third Test we had so many injuries that we were held together by sticky tape.”
CHARITY POWER, 2019
“After retiring, I’d do charity events and I was calling mates and work colleagues and clients for an event, a dinner, a golf game or whatever it is.
“For a number of years, I chose small, local charities and they tended to be children’s hospices, really. It was nice doing that. But after a few years we started raising quite large sums of money and someone said, ‘Why don’t you create your own foundation?’
“So I did about five years ago, I called it the Atlas Foundation. The idea is to help underprivileged kids. This is a project to build a school in North India’s mountains. Mucking about with the kids, they’d ask how strong you are.”
SHOCK AND AWE, 2015
“This is me and Prince Harry at the World Cup in 2015 (when Leonard was RFU president). Everyone had such high hopes for England. I played in a home World Cup (1991), and in a final at home. So I know the pressures – you just can’t get away from it.
“But it showed that the UK and Ireland are fantastic places for sporting events. It was financially successful, everyone loved it, the feedback was immense. If you see a World Cup in England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales or France, it will be a fantastic festival of rugby.”
QUINS FAREWELL, 2004
“My last game for Harlequins after 14 years. It was quite a tough year for me as I’d been away for the World Cup and the season had started by the time we came back. I shared the season with the other (Quins) props, so I didn’t get as much game time as I wanted.
“This was the final of the Parker Pen Cup against Montferrand. We won 27-26. I came on with a few minutes to go, down by six points.
“Straightaway I was involved in a fight. Afterwards, the guy hit me from behind twice and got a second yellow. We kicked to the corner, scored under the posts, got the conversion and won the game. It’s a great club and I’ve so many wonderful memories.”
WITH SIR CLIVE, 2003
“This is at the captain’s run, on a Friday before playing Wales, before heading to the World Cup.
“I was captain and we had a lot of young players in the team and, to a certain degree, for some of them it was a last chance to shine before (World Cup) selection. We won 43-9 and played nearly a perfect game. Wales didn’t even look like they would score a try.
“One thing I always felt with Clive was that he was fair. He’s an ideas man, always thinking about the next thing. He trusted senior players. He’d come up with loads of ideas: some you would dismiss out of hand, a few, hmmm, and three or four were priceless.
“People seem to take it for granted now but he was ahead of his time. It was still the relatively early days of professional rugby.”
DRESSING DOWN, 1994
“This was an England tour in South Africa. Dewi Morris is beside me, a great mate and one of the best scrum-halves in the world at the time. He had ups and downs and some people called him limited, but he was fantastic.
“We’re celebrating the win and that game was a weird one – Rob Andrew scored a try and Rob was not renowned for scoring tries. “We lost the second Test but in 1994 you could see the impact Nelson Mandela was having. He saw that sport, especially rugby, could unite the country and you saw it coming. Fast-forward a year and you’d see the World Cup.”
UP CLOSE, 1997
“Quins had a star-studded team then, with Thierry Lacroix, Laurent Cabannes, Keith Wood, Will Carling… A fantastic time.
“We organised this game against Auckland, one of the best teams in the world at the time. You’re making that transition from amateur to professionalism and our groundsman was an odd jobs man. He treated the pitch and killed all the grass. We had a week of rain and Auckland turn up with these great runners and it’s about a foot of mud. Which suited us!”
IN DEMAND, 2003
“This is doing some media work in Australia and I used to enjoy it because I’ve known some of these guys since 1990.
“I’m about to equal Philippe Sella’s record (for Test caps) so this would be before my 111th cap. Like captaincy, you don’t play for records or just to be a captain. It’s an honour, it’s fantastic. I never thought I’d get to that number of caps. And to do it following someone like Sella, who I believe is one of the greatest players to ever walk onto a field of rugby, made it even more special.”
TROPHY TOUR, 2003
“This is at Downing Street after our parade for winning the World Cup. It was bitterly cold and I remember we got on a bus to get to Marble Arch and wait there.
“There was no one where we were, we thought it was a disaster. So you can imagine our surprise as we went round the corner, down Oxford Street and Regent Street and around to Trafalgar Square. It was just awash with flags and white England shirts and people screaming and shouting.
“It was bizarre. Overwhelming. I saw the wife of a mate on the street and she began screaming. It was like we were The Beatles!”
This article originally appeared in the January 2021 edition of Rugby World magazine.
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