PA’s Chief Sports Photographer David Davies reflects on 16 years of following the team through highs and lows.
My first overseas trip for PA was also my first Lions Tour to Australia in 2001; now I’m getting ready for what will be my fifth tour with the Lions. I remember getting up in the middle of the night years ago to watch the Third and decisive Test of the 1993 tour to New Zealand, wondering if I would ever get the chance to cover the Lions.
Times have changed covering the Lions. Gone are the days of sharing a beer if we should bump into a stray player; now we get 10 minutes to watch the players stand around and enjoy the scenery of that day’s training ground. However Lions tours are remembered for what happens on the pitch on a Saturday night, but we do still try and capture the atmosphere of whichever country the Lions are touring in.
2001 BRISBANE. First Test. Of all my Lions tours, the 2001 tour to Australia was possibly the closest to the traditional rugby tours of old. The Lions were beaten the week before the first Test by the Waratahs in Sydney and used the experience to explode out of the blocks seeking revenge in Brisbane. They did so with a try from Jason Robinson. Fortunately, I was in the right corner as Robinson sidestepped Chris Latham in the first few minutes. Three more tries followed for the Lions to complete a victory at The Gabba stadium.
2001 SYDNEY. Third Test. In the end, the series came down to the third Test in Sydney which the Lions lost narrowly despite the best efforts of Jonny Wilkinson who scored a try and was as consistent as ever. His sadness at the end of the game would turn into joy in the same stadium two years later with England.
2005 CHRISTCHURCH. World Cup winning coach Clive Woodward was in charge, with the help of political spin doctor Alastair Campbell. Whilst rugby union tours had changed and become more professional, this combination took the Lions tours in a new direction. We were still given the odd chance to capture the atmosphere of New Zealand when Christ’s College performed the Haka to the Lions as they arrived for training. The sound of the famous Haka ringing round the college courtyard was just as intimidating as facing the All Blacks four days later.
2005 WELLINGTON. Second Test. New Zealand in 2005 was always going to be tough. The first Test got off on the wrong foot with the spear tackle on Brian O’Driscoll and this set the tone for the series. Dan Carter stole the show in the second Test, scoring 33 points, this being his second try.
2005 WELLINGTON. Second Test. The All Blacks went on to win the series in Wellington comfortably. Lewis Moody and the Lions were left dejected with a long, cold week in Auckland to look forward to.
2009 PRETORIA. Second Test. I think of the four tours I’ve covered, the Lions of 2009 were possibly the most exciting to watch. They lost the first Test in Durban, so we went to Pretoria needing a win. On a glorious afternoon, the Lions scored early and held a good lead. You don’t often see the Lions in such fantastic light, the famous red shirt really shone in the sunlight. Simon Shaw earned Man of the Match for his performance.
2009 PRETORIA. Second Test. South Africa, however, got themselves back into the game, and at 25-all, won a penalty in their own half which they converted with the last kick of the game. Once again, it was a losing tour and that ambition of mine to see the Lions win a Test series would have to wait another four years.
2013 BRISBANE. Before the first Test. A scene setter of the captain, Sam Warburton, in the venue is a great way of previewing the action. I was hopeful if not optimistic in 2013. The first Test was won, keeping up my clean record of never seeing the Lions lose in Brisbane, thanks to Kurtley Beale slipping at the vital moment of a last kick penalty shot.
2013 MELBOURNE. Second Test. Melbourne was an edgy Test with not many pictures, maybe half a shot here or there, but nothing clean and dynamic. Then Israel Folau attempted to tackle George North, giving us a clean bit of action at last. North then lifted and carried Folau for what felt like ages through the lens, to produce what would become one of the iconic pictures of the tour.
2013 SYDNEY. After the third Test. The final whistle was the cue to get on the pitch to record the celebrations, particularly Leigh Halfpenny, who would be named Man of the Series. You can see in Halfpenny’s face what a Lions Test series win means to the players. I always wanted to be part of a winning Lions tour and there on the pitch in Sydney eventually I was.
To have been able to have covered four, soon to be five tours, is a privilege that very few get to experience. I’m sure this time it will be as tough as 2005. The All Blacks are such a strong opponent it’s hard to see past a home win. What I do know is I will make the most of this special opportunity and enjoy everything about touring as you never know when it may be your last.