The Welsh Rugby Greats who have Captained the British & Irish Lions

THERE have been more than 200 Welshmen selected for the British & Irish Lions, the roll of honour including 15 Williamses, 15 Joneses and plenty of Davieses, Evanses, Griffithses, Morgans and Thomases to boot!

The Welshmen with the most appearances for the Lions are Graham Price, a member of the feared Pontypool front row, who donned the famous red tour jersey in 12 Tests between 1977 and 1983 and Alun Wyn Jones.

Graham Price, The Life of a Lion Credit: British & Irish Lions YouTube channel

Five Welshmen – Carwyn James, John Dawes, John Robins, Harry Packer and Walter E Rees – have had head coaching roles with the Lions on tour, and recent coaches of the Wales national team, Graham Henry and Warren Gatland, both New Zealanders, have also taken up the reins.

But did ewe know that Wales has produced Lions 12 captains since the Lions were formed in 1888? Bet ewe can’t name them all!

An easy one to start with, of course, is Sam Warburton, the most recent in that long line of Welsh greats to have captained the Lions – until Alun Wyn Jones’s selection to lead the 2021 tour party to South Africa, that is. Warburton, who had the honour of leading the squad twice, in 2013 and 2017 – the only other man to have achieved that feat previously was Lions legend Martin Johnson, so Sam is in good company!

However, it should be said that the Wales back row man went one better than the mighty Johnson by becoming the only Lions captain in history to have avoided defeat on two tours.

The proud tradition of Welsh Lions captains stretches right back to the early 1900s, when Teddy Morgan, Boxer Harding and Jack Jones led the way in 1904, 1908 and 1910 respectively.

Wales would have to wait another 40 years – and two World Wars – before ‘Prince of Centres’ Bleddyn Williams would be handed the skipper’s armband on three occasions on the monster 1950 British Lions tour of New Zealand and Australia which lasted almost four months.

In the following decades the ‘Welsh fly-half factory’ immortalised in song by entertainer Max Boyce would churn out three more Lions captains as Cliff Morgan (1955), David Watkins (1966) and Phil Bennett (1977) each had British rugby’s highest rugby honour bestowed upon them.

Not forgetting John Dawes, who led the victorious British & Irish Lions against the All Blacks in 1971, and would later return to New Zealand as Lions coach in 1977.

It was 2005 when Wales registered its ninth and 10th captains of the Lions, Gareth Thomas stepping up after Brian O’Driscoll was injured in the First Test in New Zealand and Michael Owen leading the Lions out against Argentina in Cardiff.

Alun Wyn Jones also took his chance to captain the Lions in Australia 2013 when injury struck down his fellow Wales forward Warburton and the tourists came out on top in that decisive third Test to seal a first series win in 16 years.

Sam Warburton on his Lions experiences Credit: The British & Irish Lions YouTube channel

The Lions captains from Wales

1904 TEDDY MORGAN (Lion #114) v Australia & New Zealand

Welsh international wing Teddy Morgan took over the captaincy on the 1904 Tour of Australia and New Zealand after original choice David Bedell-Sivright broke his leg in the opening game.

In a highly successful Tour, The British & Irish Lions won all three Tests against Australia but lost the contest with the All Blacks.

Morgan, who made 16 appearances for Wales, is believed to have led his team in singing the Welsh national anthem in response to the All Blacks’ haka during the 1905 tour of the Original All Blacks to Britain – the first time a national anthem had been sung at a sporting event.

1908 BOXER HARDING (Lion #111) v New Zealand

Arthur ‘Boxer’ Harding, a surprisingly nimble forward possessing good passing and kicking attributes, was first chosen for Wales 1902 where he faced England at Blackheath.

He later was chosen to face the Original All Blacks on New Zealand’s first tour of Britain in 1905 after making his first Lions Tour appearance in 1904.

Four years later, Harding was chosen to captain the Lions on their 26-match Tour of Australia and New Zealand, where the tourists won 19 of the 26 contest but none of the three Tests.

1910 JACK JONES (Lion #132) v South Africa

In the absence due to injury of Tour skipper Tommy Smyth in the opening Test of the 1910 Tour Jack Jones, affectionately known as The Prince of Centres, led the side out.

The only survivor from the 1908 Tour of Australia and New Zealand, Jones reached the top of the Lions appearances table at the time with 41 – levelling Englishman Frank Stout.

Jones also made 14 appearances for Wales while his brothers David and James both also played for Wales – making them one of only two families to ever provide three brothers to the international side.

1950 BLEDDYN WILLIAMS (Lion #353) v New Zealand and Australia

Known as ‘The Prince of Centres’, Bleddyn Williams became the first Welshman to captain the British & Irish Lions for 40 years when he led the team out for the third Test against New Zealand in 1950.

In all, Williams – born in Taff’s Well – skippered the Lions on three occasions and marked the last of those games with a try against Australia in Brisbane.

Williams featured in 20 of the 29 fixtures in the near four-month tour of New Zealand and Australia, scoring 13 tries and showcasing his superb all-round game in midfield.

1955 CLIFF MORGAN (Lion #363) v South Africa

Described during the 1955 British & Irish Lions Tour as the best fly-half ever to visit South Africa, Cliff Morgan ranks as one of the top No.10s ever to come out of Britain or Ireland.

The renowned Cardiff playmaker appeared in all four Tests during the 2-2 series draw with the Springboks, and became the only Welshman to captain the Lions to a Test victory in South Africa when he led the side in the third rubber at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria.

1966 DAVID WATKINS (Lion #455) v New Zealand

Welshman David Watkins led the British & Irish Lions twice on the 1966 Tour of New Zealand, also featuring in the side that toured Australia during the same trip, with the series against the All Blacks ending in a 4-0 defeat.

Born in Blaina, Monmouthshire, Watkins played both Rugby Union and Rugby League during an illustrious career, representing his country in both derivatives of the game.

A year after the Tour to New Zealand, Watkins switched codes to play for Salford, where he made over 400 appearances, as well as six for Great Britain.

1971 JOHN DAWES (Lion #487) v New Zealand

Centre John Dawes is the only man to have led The British & Irish Lions on a victorious Tour to New Zealand, guiding the tourists to a 2-1 triumph in 1971 after drawing the final Test 14-14 in Auckland.

Those were the Welshman’s only four Lions Test caps, but he certainly made his impression after leading from the front to keep the All Blacks at bay throughout.

Dawes, who returned to New Zealand as Lions coach in 1977, also never lost to England during his international career, as well as leading Wales to 1971 Five Nations Grand Slam victory.

1977 PHIL BENNETT (Lion #506) v New Zealand

1977 captain Phil Bennett was renowned for having one of the most dazzling sidesteps in rugby, with the fleet-footed fly-half leaving defenders bamboozled on many an occasion.

The Welshman formed a deadly partnership with scrum-half Gareth Edwards for the British & Irish Lions and for their country, with both starring in the unbeaten Tour to South Africa in 1974.

Bennett took the armband for the following Tour of New Zealand in 1977, but was unable to repeat the feat as Lions went down 3-1, despite finishing top scorer in the Tests with 18 points to his name.

Phil Bennett demonstrates some side-stepping magic for the Lions Credit: British & Irish Lions YouTube

2005 GARETH THOMAS (Lion #747) v New Zealand

Gareth Thomas is one of the most-capped Welsh players of all-time, making 100 appearances in all.

He was only selected for one Lions Tour, the 2005 trip to New Zealand and, following an injury to Brian O’Driscoll in the opening minutes of the first Test against New Zealand, was made captain for the second and third Tests, becoming the ninth Welsh skipper in Lions’ history.

2005 MICHAEL OWEN (Lion #726) v Argentina

Michael Owen made his British & Irish Lions debut against Argentina in 2005, when he captained the side, and played six games during the Tour to New Zealand that year.

The match against the Pumas was the first Lions Test to take place outside the touring country – with the game played at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff – and Owen led the team to a 25-25 draw from the No.8 position.

2013/2021 ALUN WYN JONES (Lion #761) v Australia & South Africa

Alun Wyn Jones left New Zealand in 2017 as the first player in the professional era to play in nine consecutive British & Irish Lions Tests after colossal performances in the drawn series against the All Blacks.

But his greatest hour in the famous red jersey came in Australia in 2013 when he captained the Lions in place of the injured Sam Warburton in the decisive third Test to seal a first series win in 16 years.

After leading Wales to an unlikely Six Nations title, it was no great surprise when former Wales coach Warren Gatland turned to Jones to skipper the 2021 Lions in South Africa.

Despite a potentially tour-ending shoulder injury against Japan, the second row made an astounding recovery to match Lions legend Graham Price’s achievement of playing 12 consecutive Tests.

With 160 caps to his name, of which 148 came for Wales and 12 for the Lions, he became the most capped player in the history of international rugby.

Since making his debut in 2006, he has won three Grand Slams, a further two Six Nations titles, and has now gone on four British & Irish Lions Tours.

2013/2017 SAM WARBURTON (Lion #800) v New Zealand & Australia

Sam Warburton joined a very exclusive club during the 2017 Tour to New Zealand, as he became only the second man to captain The British & Irish Lions twice.

He joined fellow Lions legend Martin Johnson in accomplishing that feat, but went one better than the former England lock, and stands as the only Lions captain in history to have avoided defeat on two Tours.

Source: Lions Rugby