British and Irish Lions
May 30, 2022 9:03 a.m.
Reading time: 5 minutes
Rob Wainwright might just be the ultimate British and Irish Lions teammate.
A member of the legendary 1997 tour squad, the Scottish hero made seven appearances for South Africa and earned a cap in the final game against the Springboks.
But it was his actions since the Tour that reinforced the incredible bond the Lions had forged, the one that drove him to create Doddie Aid for fellow rider Doddie Weir.
Mass participation fundraising events have raised over £1million to find a cure for motor neuron disease since Weir revealed he was diagnosed with the condition in 2017.
And it’s no surprise that Wainwright, who was also Scotland’s first professional captain, has such fond memories of his time in the famous red jersey.
“I think Lions are a wonderful thing and I think the role of Lions is huge. It’s amazing to have that peak available every four years, something to strive for,” he said.
“It’s loved by the fans and extremely exciting for the players.”
Born in Perth, Scotland, Wainwright was a doctor by profession and was commissioned into the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1987 before being promoted to lieutenant in 1990.
He became captain after medical training in 1991 and major in 1996, managing to balance his semi-professional rugby career with his military life.
Wainwright was able to play through the back line positions and received his first Scottish cap in 1992 before making a name for himself in the 1994 Five Nations with a try against England.
He took over the captaincy from Gavin Hastings after the 1995 Rugby World Cup, becoming his country’s first professional skipper, and guided Scotland to second place in the Five Nations in 1996.
South Africa has come to the end of his career and he made an instant impression in a Lions shirt, commanding the tourists against Border and scoring a try in the 18-14 win.
His next appearance for the Tourists proved even more memorable, with Wainwright scoring a hat-trick in the 64-14 win over Mpumalanga to push his case for a Test start.
But that game ultimately became hard to forget for all the wrong reasons as it was the scene of the knee injury that ruled compatriot Scot Weir out of the rest of the Tour in South Africa.
The moment Weir learned the heartbreaking news was documented in Living With Lions and Wainwright recalls how the mood quickly changed once the full extent was known.
Doddie Aid 2022: Lion stars appeal to the rugby community
“I was really upset that Doddie got hurt. [against Mpumalanga]recalls Wainwright. “I shouldn’t put it that way because I was obviously upset that Doddie got injured at all…
“But at the time, I didn’t know how serious the injury was and the incident moved away from my hat-trick. The press was talking about Doddie’s injury and not my hat-trick.
“I was disappointed on a human level, but obviously we found out how bad the injury was and everyone had that moment in Living With the Lions.
“You have to see Rob Howley and Doddie being told their tour is over and both assumed they would be on the test squad and it was such a painful thing.
“But we took Doddie and had a good night with him. I remember Keith Wood, Doddie and myself meeting somewhere late at night and sending him a good start.
Wainwright continued to play in the tight loss to Northern Transvaal, as well as wins over the Sharks, Free State and Northern Free State, but missed the first two Test matches.
With the series victory secured, Wainwright then received his first and only test cap for the Lions in the final encounter with the Springboks – a match he only recently relived.
“I only watched the Third Test for the first time recently. Having never seen the game, I have vague memories of things I did heroically and things I didn’t do well” , did he declare.
“It’s always painful to see your version of events shattered. I guess I got muscled, that’s the only way to describe it, by some of the young South African fullbacks.
“But it was an amazing thing to be involved in. It was probably the toughest rugby game I’ve ever played; I came out with a broken sternum from the tackle from Andre Venter.
“It was an incredibly tough game, but you wouldn’t want to change that. It’s something to have, something to have done, it’s the pinnacle for British and Irish rugby players.
Wainwright also has fond memories of celebrating after the series’ second Sealing Test win, teaming up with a teammate to cause all sorts of mayhem.
He said: “Mike Catt and I after the second test, when we won the series, we ended up – I can’t remember the name of the nightclub that’s right in that pavilion on the side of King’s Park .
“We went around and I remember we went around and ripped everyone’s shirts off. We were right on top of the world that night and could get away with party hijinks.
But while Wainwright played a huge role both on and off the pitch in South Africa, it was his fundraising for Weir that showed the man’s true caliber.
If you’re looking for someone who embodies the spirit of Leos, look no further.