Lions in Africa: The British and Irish Lions and the Hunt for the Springboks by Chris Schoeman and David McLennan

My grateful thanks to Phillip Dean at Amberley for sending me a copy of Lions in Africa: The British & Irish Lions and the Hunt for the Springboks by Chris Schoeman and David McLennan in return for an honest review. It might surprise Linda’s Book Bag readers to find a non-fiction book about rugby here, but being married to a Welshman, we love our international rugby and times can get very competitive here in the Hill household during the world cup, Lions’ tours or six nations! I’m delighted to share my review of Lions in Africa: The British & Irish Lions and the Hunt for the Springboks today.

Published by Amberley on 15th August 2021, of Lions in Africa: The British & Irish Lions and the Hunt for the Springboks is available in all good bookshops, online and directly from the publisher here.

 Lions in Africa: The British & Irish Lions and the Hunt for the Springboks

It was the year 1891, and the first rugby football team from the British Isles was about to embark on a tour of South Africa; any doubts about the financial sustainability of the venture were removed when mining magnate Cecil John Rhodes thumped the table and declared, ’Let them come. I shall stand security for any shortfall.’

And so a tradition began that survived the financial insecurities of the pioneer years, two World Wars, sports boycotts, and the birth of the professional era.

These tours have produced some of the finest Test rugby and some of the greatest players and sides seen anywhere in the world. The 1955 series, where Ellis Park drew 90 000 spectators and the likes of Tony O’Reilly, Cliff Morgan and Tom van Vollenhoven set the game alight; the legendary undefeated 1974 side of Willie John McBride, when arguably the finest international touring team to set foot on South African soil destroyed the Springboks; the 1997 side that conquered the then world champions when Jeremy Guscott’s snap drop goal sealed the series with one Test to go. Lions in Africa is an entertaining narrative of one of international sport’s most popular contests, and a welcome addition to any rugby fan’s bookshelf.

My Review of Lions in Africa: The British & Irish Lions and the Hunt for the Springboks

A history of the British Lions on tour in South Africa.

I confess it took me some considerable time to read Lions in Africa, because it’s so filled with facts and figures, match reports and details that there was a lot to absorb and I needed to take my time. It is, however, a book that lends itself to being picked up and set aside remarkably well.

Lions in Africa is an incredibly detailed, meticulously researched history that will absolutely mesmerise rugby fans. It would make a fantastic gift for them too. As a more casual rugby lover, I’d have liked a few more photographs to exemplify the written details, but given that the book takes the reader back to 1891 in the history and spans almost 120 years of Lions tours to South Africa, perhaps the lack is unsurprising (and indeed there is an image of that first 1891 touring team).

The tour and match details provided are very visual so that the reader can picture (and in some cases remember) the matches vividly. Facts and figures abound from team lists to match scores. However, although Lions in Africa is fascinating in its own right with passing reference to the political and social history of the eras as well as the sporting one, I think it has value far beyond simply reading it. The team lists, for example, made me want to discover what happened to players beyond their playing days. Some potted biographies are included and spark the need to find more about more of the players. This is a real added bonus in reading Lions in Africa. Add in the footnotes and bibliography and Lions in Africa become a catalyst to entertain a rugby lover for months.

Lions in Africa is written with authority but a very accessible style with human touches that really bring the tours to life. For example, when it comes to playing in the wind at an unfamiliar stadium, never trust a groundsman – but you need to read the book to find out why!

Lions in Africa will captivate passionate rugby lovers completely. It’s also a fascinating insight into the British Lions tours for the more casual rugby or sports enthusiast too.

About Chris Schoeman and David McLennan

Chris Schoeman co-authored the autobiographies of Springbok rugby legends Danie Gerber, Frik du Preez (South Africa’s Player of the Century), Os du Randt and Dawie de Villiers, as well as international cricket umpire Rudi Koertzen. He has also written several books on the Anglo-Boer War, World War I and South African regional histories.

Visit Chris’s website for more information.

David McLennan was born in Mbombela and attended the Diocesan College (Bishops) in Cape Town. He has a degree in history from the University of Cape Town. He worked in the South African archives service before becoming a dealer in rare and unusual books on Africa (Africana) with his wife Karen. They own Select Books based in Claremont (near Cape Town). The shop was established in 1986 and we have owned it since 1996. He has written a number of books related to rugby in South Africa.

2 thoughts on “Lions in Africa: The British and Irish Lions and the Hunt for the Springboks by Chris Schoeman and David McLennan

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