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Introduction
It seems to me that there are two main sports in the UK, those of rugby and football. Unlike most youngsters I had no ambition to play football at any level, and still consider it to be a game for posers who earn far too much money. Kicking a ball around for ninety minutes while occasionally throwing myself on the floor and rolling around in ‘agony’ isn’t really my cup of tea. Perhaps it was because I was a big lad at school, but I could never get into that game. Rugby on the other hand was the sport of choice at my school; a sport that accommodates all shapes and sizes at that. It was also extremely nice to discover that I had a talent for the game, and I went on to play for a number of years until injury forced me out.

The infamous "99" call of the '74 tour to South Africa
Documentary
As any British rugby fan will tell you, there is something very special about a Lions tour. It is a time when the rivalry between the home unions of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales in forgotten (at least in theory) and one unified team flies off to the southern hemisphere to do battle with one of the three super powers of rugby – Australia, New Zealand or South Africa.

The tours consist of a series of ‘midweek’ games and a number of tests, usually three. The midweek games are seen as a chance to assess all of the players so that that the strongest possible side can be fielded when it comes to the test matches.

Legacy of the Lions is a two-hour documentary featuring interviews and archival footage from many of the tours. Presented by John Inverdale, who is a likeable and competent sports presenter, the main documentary spans almost a century of Lions tours.

The documentary kicks off with the 1971 tour to New Zealand. Featuring interviews with legends such as Willie Jon McBride, Fergus Slattery, Barry John, Mervyn Davies, Gareth Edwards, JPR Williams and John Dawes, this is one of the most enjoyable segments of the feature. We get to hear lots of anecdotes and stories about the team, with behind the scenes footage of the tour. This has long been regarded as the benchmark for all Lions tours, and considering some of the tries that are scored it’s not hard to see why.

The disc goes on to look at the early teams of the 1930s. Amazingly one of the players, Harry Bowcott, is still alive, and he talks about the tour to New Zealand. It’s interesting to hear the way he refers to the Lions team as ‘schoolboys’ when compared to the far more professional All Blacks, and it’s not surprising that the test series was lost 3-1.

The documentary continues with footage of the tours of the ’30s, ’50s and ’60s, most of which were fairly disastrous for the Lions. Still, it’s nice to see some of the old footage and hear some of the players talk about those early days. It really makes you appreciate just how much the game has changed over the last fifty years. Come the 1970s however, it’s a different story. The teams of the seventies were comprised mostly of Welsh players, with the brilliance of the three quarters being the difference between the Lions and their opposition. From the “99” call in South Africa, with players such as JPR Williams running forty yards to lamp one of the opposition forwards, to some of the finest rugby and best tries I’ve seen, the seventies are a joy to watch.

Unfortunately the ‘80s were another poor era for the Lions, but thankfully the documentary picks out the choice moments. The best of these - and the main focus of this section of the documentary - is the 1989 tour to Australia. This was my first taste of Lions rugby, although as I hadn’t been playing the sport at the time I watched it retrospectively rather than live. Fantastic players like Jeremy Guscott and Finlay Calder are interviewed, along with many other fine athletes. Footage of some of the brawls between halfbacks Rob Jones and Nick Farr Jones is also shown, and these often erupted into mass brawls between the two teams! Also included is footage of Jeremy Guscott’s sublime try in the second test, which is one of the best I’ve seen. It’s also nice to see Welsh winger Ieuan Evans score the try that clinched the series after a mistake by loud mouth David Campesse.

Jerry Guscott goes over to help clinch the '89 series in Australia
The 1993 tour to New Zealand was the first series I watched live on TV when at the height of my rugby playing fanaticism. We were robbed in the first test by a harsh call on Dean ‘Deano’ Richards. I can still remember the look of despair on Dewi Morris’ face when the penalty was given. That penalty was subsequently kicked by Grant Fox to give New Zealand a 1-0 lead in the test series. The second test was a different story. After an early New Zealand score the Lions came back to win convincingly. Players such as Martin Bayfield and Ben Clarke had huge games and captain Gavin Hastings - in spite of his early mistake that gave a gift of a try to New Zealand - kicked everything.

The third test was a crushing blow. I woke up at six in the morning to watch the game live, but all I witnessed was the Lions getting muscled out of it. We were totally nullified, eventually succumbing to the power of the All Blacks despite an early lead. I was heartbroken.

1997’s tour to South Africa was an altogether more enjoyable series, most notably as the ‘Boks were so arrogant about victory beforehand. Returning rugby league players like Scott Gibbs, Allan Bateman and Allan Tate gave the team an air of professionalism and a much-needed hard edge. Neil Jenkins’ kicking ability also played a massive part, as did Matt Dawson’s marvellous try in first test and Jeremy Gscott's drop goal in the second. Interviews with players such as Lawrence Dallaglio, Martin Johnson and Neil Jenkins really bring home just how much the ’97 Lions wanted to win the series, as well as just how much self belief they had. The series win was a huge achievement, one I loved watching at the time. This is a fitting end to a documentary that brought back some great memories, as well as entertaining me with stories of old.

Interspersed with the documentary sections is a segment called Lions Tales, which features stories and anecdotes from the tours as told by the players themselves. These are often quite interesting and range from tales of hunting in South Africa, to players ‘liberating’ certain things as tour trophies.

Video
The video, as one might expect from a release of this nature, is highly variable throughout. The old black and white footage from the tours of the 1950s and 60s is badly deteriorated, while the early colour of the 70s has an unnatural, almost cartoonish look to it. When you get to the later tours of the ‘80s and ‘90s however, things start to improve. The 4:3 image accurately reproduces the colours in these segments, but the contrast seemed a little too high for my liking. Still, it’s not a terrible transfer, and one that accurately recreates the source material, so I can’t really complain.

Audio
The Dolby Digital Stereo mix accurately reproduces the sound of the original broadcasts, which were never going to tax your system anyway. However, the sound can sometimes be a little tinny, even in the more recent segments. Still, you’ll get no complaint from me as it faithfully reproduces the source material.

Extras
Sparse would be the word I would choose to sum up the extras. The best of what little there is has to be the ‘Lions Talk’ section, which includes interviews with some of the outstanding players from the past few decades. These sections give more insight into some of the events on and off of the field, with anecdotes from Martin Johnson and Jeremy Guscott among others.

Also included in the supplements is a stats section. This includes touring stats, player stats and team stats for the history of the Lions. Not a particularly brilliant showing, but better than nothing.

Matt Dawson's fantastic solo try in the '97 series in South Africa
Overall
While not a particularly good disc this is definitely worth watching if you have even the slightest interest in rugby. It couples some nice archival footage with extremely interesting commentary and stories from the people who really matter – the players. Audio and video are fine for such a release, and although the extras are disappointing it’s the main feature that will keep you coming back. This brought back some really great memories of watching the tours on TV in the early hours of the morning, and the disc is recommended to rugby fans everywhere.


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