British and Irish Lions: Matt Dawson and the best scrum halves in the team’s history

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There is no doubt that the British and Irish Lions are the most popular touring team in world rugby.

Warren Gatland’s men are currently on their summer tour of South Africa, and with a three-Test series with the Springboks set to start on July 24, the apex of their visit is upon us at last.

As Lions fans gear up for their side’s highly anticipated clash, what better way to celebrate the illustrious history of the team than to have a look back at some of the best scrum halves to ever represent one of the most notable international squads in world sport.

For this topic, there is no better man to kick off the discussion than Sir Ian McGeechan, who was recently on The High Performance Podcast discussing all things Lions.

Sir Ian not only played for the Lions in 1974 and 1977, but he also managed the team in 1989 (Australia tour), 1993 (New Zealand tour), 1997 (South Africa tour) and 2009 (South Africa tour).

Read more: The High Performance Podcast hub

Having seen success as both a coach and a player, Sir Ian embodies what it means to wear the Lions jersey with pride. When speaking on the podcast, he defined what it means to be “world-class” when it comes to achieving success.

Moreover, Sir Ian spoke about one instance in particular where a player was able to vastly transform themselves into a whole new player, and that instance was Matt Dawson at Northampton.

Regarding Dawson’s rejuvenation, Sir Ian had this to say: “Now he would tend to over run, so everyone kept an eye on him because ultimately, there would be a turnover because they were waiting for him.

“I then just said, let’s try and build a game where actually, I want you to have your hands on the ball for four or five occasions without anything happening other than your passing.

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“I said wait for the moment where people then forget about you and that’s the time to break, and it might only be twice in a half, but actually when it happens, it’s devastating.

“He [Dawson] took it on board with England and with the Lions, he just became an outstanding No. 9 because he varied what he did and when he did it.”

As a prime example of one of the best scrum halves in the team’s history, let’s highlight Dawson and various other world-class scrum halves who have represented the world famous British and Irish Lions.

Sir Gareth Edwards (1971, 1974)

Sir Gareth Edwards is arguably the greatest Welsh rugby player to ever grace the field. He was a part of two historic Lions squads that absolutely lit up the sport.

In 1971, Sir Gareth and his fellow Lions beat New Zealand in a Test series for the first time, and to this day, they are still the only Lions squad to have done so. Sir Gareth also travelled to South Africa in 1974 and played a key role in the Lions’ unbeaten run there.

Matt Dawson (1997, 2001, 2005)

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The former Northampton and London Wasps star went on three tours with the Lions. Dawson was pivotal in the 1997 Test against the Springboks as his memorable overhead dummy left four of his opponents dumbfounded as he scampered over the line for the winning try.

He also supplied the pass to Jeremy Guscott for the drop goal that sealed the series victory for the Lions.

Robert Jones (1989, 1993)

The former all-time appearance leader for Wales enjoyed a successful period with the Lions, especially in the 1989 tour of Australia. Jones put on a box-kicking masterclass over the course of the Test series as the Lions ran out 2-1 winners despite going a Test down.

Who could also forget his iconic dispute with Nick Farr-Jones?

Mike Phillips (2009, 2013)

As one of the biggest scrum halves to ever play for the Lions, Phillips did indeed make his presence felt. During the 2009 tour in South Africa, Phillips was one of five players to play in all three Tests against the Springboks and was deemed one of the best players on the whole tour.

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He also travelled to Australia in 2013 and notably scored twice and won Man of the Match in the Lions’ opener against The Barbarians. Ultimately, there’s no denying the sheer power Phillips brought to the Lions during his time with the team.

Dickie Jeeps (1955, 1959, 1962)

Jeeps was the Lions’ go-to with regards to catalysing flashing attacks. He was one of the most well-rounded players to don the Lions kit, and to this day many remember him as such a positive presence within the team.

As the most capped scrum half in Lions history, Jeeps is undoubtedly one of the absolute greats

Conor Murray (2013, 2017, 2021)

After featuring sporadically in 2013, 2017 was quite the year for Murray with the Lions. The Irishman was a part of history as the Lions beat New Zealand for the first time since 1993.

As well as that, Murray became the first player from the northern hemisphere to score four tries against the All Blacks. He’s currently in South Africa as part of the 2021 touring squad, and with the Springboks up next, many will hope for some more Murray magic in the upcoming Test series.

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Dewi Morris (1993)

The Englishman featured during the 1993 tour in New Zealand and put on some valiant performances during the three Tests.

His drive and tenacity troubled the All Blacks and despite only going on one Lions tour, Morris’ grit was what made him a noteworthy figure in the team.

Rob Howley (1997, 2001)

Injury may have plagued his time with the Lions, but Howley is still one of greatest Welsh scrum halves to play the game of rugby.

Howley missed the majority of the 1997 tour due to injury and finally made his Lions debut in 2001 in the side’s unforgettable first Test win over Australia. His tour ended early once again, though, after he broke his ribs in the second Test, but in spite of that, Howley was still quite the player when not dealing with niggling injuries.

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