British and Irish Lions | Lions Legend: Jason Leonard

Three-time Lion, World Cup winner and for a time the most capped player in the world, Jason Leonard can boast an impressive CV.

With 114 appearances for England, the former Harlequins and Saracens stalwart still has more international caps than any other male striker.

Leonard spent a total of 14 years in the England white in an astonishing career that spanned both the amateur and professional era and, although it was his achievements for his country that most appealed to him attention, it also holds a special place in Lion folklore. .

Despite rupturing a vertebra in his neck in England’s decisive victory over Wales in 1992, Leonard recovered remarkably to be selected for the Lions Tour in New Zealand a year later.

British & Irish Lions Profile: Lion #644 Jason Leonard

The Lions may have lost the series 2-1, but the team and Leonard himself have done Britain and Ireland proud. The ‘Fun Bus’ kicked off the second and third Tests against the All Blacks and were widely expected to be South Africa’s first choice four years later.

Unfortunately for Leonard, although his ability to play both loose and tight with nearly equal expertise made his inclusion in Test Match 22 a virtual certainty, he missed out on a starting spot against the Springboks in all three Tests. .

Leonard handled the disappointment like a true professional, however, putting team philosophy ahead of his own frustrations to ensure the midweek squad maintained Tour momentum.

Ian McGeechan and Jason Leonard

The Barking-born frontline striker skippered the side three times in 1997 and was later chosen to make it a sellout Lions Tours tour by heading to Australia in 2001. Just as he did on his previous two Lions Test series, Leonard featured in two of three games against the Wallabies.

His career with the Lions ended in disappointment with a series loss to the then-world champions, but Leonard still had plenty to do at international level as England climbed to Cup glory of the world in 2003.

After retiring in 2004, the man who was described by Sir Ian McGeechan as ‘The Ultimate Lion’ was president of the RFU from 2015 to 2016 and is the current president of the British and Irish Lions.

During his first Tour in 1993

“My first Lions trip was a fascinating experience, although it would have been much better if we had won, of course. What I found particularly enjoyable was the mentality of the Tour – everyone sticking together, the transnational banter and the destruction of national stereotypes.

“Even as a player you end up believing what is written about other players most of the time, so when you meet them and tour with them for eight weeks it can be a real shock to find out that they really go good.

“It’s also good to get to know some of the non-English players in a friendly environment because on a regular basis we tend to only see people when we’re about to play them or have just played them. You’re all on the same side on tour, which creates much closer bonds and allows you to get closer to other players.

On his test debut in the second rubber in New Zealand

“Playing against New Zealand is always difficult. Playing New Zealand as a striker is even more difficult. Playing New Zealand in New Zealand as a striker is about as difficult as it gets.

“As I prepared to do just that, with the Lions shirt on my back and in a test match for the first time, it felt like one of the most important moments of my career. I knew how much to win meant. If we lost, the series would be over, and if we tied, we had no hope of winning the three-game series. We had to win.

Leonard: When you become a Lion, you represent everyone

“I had a good game in what turned out to be quite a comfortable 20-7 victory for us, which was the Lions’ biggest win in New Zealand to date. The home fans were quite upset with the fact that the Lions were winning – they really don’t like to lose at home – and someone threw a can of beer at Brian Moore.

“I didn’t see him at the time, but when we walked into the next scrum I could smell that horrible beer stench and Brian just kept burping. He told me over the later that when he had picked up the can of beer and tossed it to the side of the pitch, he realized it was full, so he opened it, toasted the cheering crowd and took a sip before tossing it aside.

Jason Leonard

While playing under Martin Johnson in 1997

“I think some people were surprised by the decision to make Johnno the captain despite not being the England captain at the time (Phil de Glanville was), but none of the players ” was very surprised. We had all seen Johnno do a terrific job for Leicester and knew he would be great in that role – someone who would lead by example. Naturally I liked the idea of ​​having a striker the controls !

Leading the Lions

“The first game of the 1997 tour was against Eastern Province in Port Elizabeth and I was chosen to captain it because of my previous experience with the Lions. It was an important game because you have to start the tours and I knew that I had been selected because they needed someone who understood what they were doing, to go out and secure us a victory. Even if it was the first match of a long Tour, I knew for the rest of the Tour it was vital that we come away with a win.

“I was happy with the way I managed the team. We stuck to our guns and played the kind of rugby we thought would beat the South African side in the Test matches.

Missing out on a starting spot in South Africa

“The Lions Tours are not test caps, despite what it may seem from the outside. It’s about a large group of players who go out together and do among themselves what is necessary to win.

“Players have bad days and I haven’t had a big Tour, so it was just that Paul Wallace and Tom Smith were the test props, which doesn’t mean I didn’t support them every centimeter of the way, and I do everything I can to help them in training.

“I’m as competitive as the next person, but the Lions Tours are different. I knew I wasn’t going to make the Test team, so I decided to try and help the other players as much as I could. I did everything I could, whether it was scrimmage sessions, lineouts or rucking and mauling sessions.

On what made the 1997 Lions so special

“At the 1997 Lions, it really felt like it was our tightly knit little group of players and managers against the millions of people that there are in South Africa. It was like us against the whole world and you felt like there was a role for you whether you played in the tests or not.

“Geech said after the Tour that it was the camaraderie and closeness of all the players in the party that made the Tour successful, and I think he was right. He said some of the most important people in this trip was the midweeks because they won their games and helped the Test team prepare for theirs.

“The 1997 Lions were different from previous tours – we were told from the start that this was the Lions’ first professional tour and that winning games would be the top priority. There would still be time for other Tour activities like meeting local communities and having our traditional kangaroo courts, but the focus would be firmly on winning the three-Test series in South Africa.

“The trip to South Africa was a huge success and a huge reward, even for a player like me who certainly hadn’t played as well, or as often, as I would have liked.”

Jason Leonard

Completing the Lions hat-trick

“Having the honor of visiting all three countries in the Southern Hemisphere as a Lion is fabulous – the greatest honor in the game. In two of them I saw the country, met the people and I been able to put something back into their rugby to thank them for welcoming them in. In one country, Australia, I haven’t, and whichever way you look at it – professional sport or not – that’s really shame.

Jason Leonard Fact Sheet

Date of Birth: August 14, 1968
club: Saracens, Harlequins
International limits: England 114
Height: 5 feet 10 inches (1.78m)
Lester: 17 stone 7lbs (111kg)

Legend of Leonard’s Lions

The beginnings of the Lions: Versus North Auckland, 22 May 1993
Lions events: 6 (2nd and 3rd Tests in 1993, 1st and 2nd Tests in 1997 and 2001)
Out-of-test Lions appearances: 18
Total number of Lions appearances: 24
Final appearance of the Lions: Vs Australia, Sydney, 7 July 2001

Charles P. Patton