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The Greatest Lions XV Of The Professional Era

Australia v British & Irish Lions: Game 3

The Lions have toured on five occasions since the dawn of professionalism.

When rugby turned professional in August 1995, many questioned whether or not touring sides such as the British and Irish Lions had a place in the modern game.

However, since the dawn of professionalism, the Lions have toured on five occasions. Nevertheless, while the Lions may have struggled for tour success, off the field they have embraced professionalism, becoming a money-making phenomenon.

When the 2017 tour to New Zealand was announced, legendary All Black, Sean Fitzpatrick described the Lions as ‘probably the most powerful brand in world rugby’. Continuing in this vein he added, ‘even if you just look at them in terms of being a money-making brand, they’re phenomenal’.

After recording a £221,000 loss last year and announcing a £4.7 million investment in their provincial sides, the New Zealand Rugby Union have already stated that they plan to use the 2017 tour to bolster their finances.

Indeed, the New Zealand government eagerly await the arrival of the Lions in 2017, after fans of the touring side injected £65 million into their national economy in 2005.

Therefore, while it might not sit well with many, it could be argued that the Lions have become more of an economic attraction rather than a competitive touring side.

In spite of this, the tradition and history associated with the Lions continue to inspire fans and players alike. Therefore, as we find ourselves 4 months away from the beginning of the 2017 tour, interest is quickly mounting.

1. Gethin Jenkins (2005, 2009 and 2013)

South Africa v British & Irish Lions - 1st Test

Having been included among the last three touring parties, it would have been very difficult to leave the Welsh loosehead out of a team such as this.

Jenkins started in each of the three test matches against New Zealand in 2005 and the first two games against South Africa in 2009.

Although Jenkins was forced to withdraw from the 2013 due to injury, five consecutive test starts is not to be sniffed at.

2. Keith Wood (1997 and 2001)

Keith Wood

Having been part of the 1997 squad, Keith Wood has become synonymous with the modern day Lions. The Irish legend earned five test caps during the 97 and 2001 tours.

3. Phil Vickery (2001 and 2009)

South Africa v British & Irish Lions - 3rd Test

Although Phil Vickery was included in the 2001 and 2009 touring parties, he can count himself unlucky to have missed to 2005 tour due to injury.

Nevertheless, like his front row colleagues, Vickery earned five test caps before winning Celebrity Master Chef in 2011.

4. Martin Johnson (1993, 1997, 2001)

Australia v Lions

As the only man to Captain two touring parties, Martin Johnson cannot be left out.

5. Paul O’Connell (2005, 2009 and 2013)

South Africa v British & Irish Lions - 3rd Test

Despite suffering an injury-ravaged career, Paul O’Connell managed to earn eight Lions caps and Captain the side in 2009. Like Johnson, he led from the front and was in the running to lead the Lions to Australia in 2013.

6. Richard Hill (1997, 2001 and 2005)

Richard Hill of the Lions

Together with Neil Back and Lawrence Dallaglio, Richard Hill was part of one of the best back row units to have ever played the game. The only man never dropped by Clive Woodward, Hill featured in three tours between 1997 and 2005.

7. Martyn Williams (2001, 2005 and 2009)

Lions v Australia A X

Choosing between Martyn Williams and Neil Back proved to be one of the most difficult decisions when compiling this team. Both players toured on three occasions and were world class opensides in their own right.

After much debate, we opted for the Welshman owing to his greater mobility and ability to compete against the very best at the breakdown.

8. Lawrence Dallaglio (1997, 2001, 2005)

Lawrence Dallaglio

Like his back row colleagues, Lawrence Dallaglio was selected on three consecutive touring sides between 1997 and 2005. However, injuries suffered during the 2001 and 2005 tours meant that the number eight was only able to accumulate three caps.

9. Matt Dawson (1997, 2001, 2005)

Matt Dawson

Matt Dawson was one of the most consistent players of his generation and was rewarded with 7 Lions caps between 1997 and 2005.

10. Jonny Wilkinson (2001 and 2005)

British and Irish Lions v Wellington

As one of the best fly-halves to have played the game, Jonny Wilkinson’s place in this team was guaranteed. He scored 67 points during his 6 test caps earned during the 2001 and 2005 tours.

11. Shane Williams (2005, 2009 and 2013)

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 18: Shane Williams of the Lions runs with the ball during the International tour match between the ACT Brumbies and the British & Irish Lions at Canberra Stadium on June 18, 2013 in Canberra, Australia. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

One of the best finishers of his generation, Shane Williams was included in three touring parties between 2005 and 2013.

Although he only earned four test caps during that time, he is one of the few wingers to feature on more than one tour during the professional era.

12. Jamie Roberts (2009 and 2013)

Australia v British & Irish Lions: Game 3

The temptation at inside centre would have been to select Jeremy Guscott based on his role in the 1997 triumph over South Africa.

However, we opted for Jamie Roberts, who toured twice in the professional era and would have earned more test caps had it not been for an injured hamstring during the 2013 tour and a sprained wrist four years earlier in South Africa.

13. Brian O’Driscoll (2001, 2005, 2009 and 2013)

Australia v British & Irish Lions: Game 2

When Brian O’Driscoll was selected in the 2013 touring party, he became only the third player in the history of the Lions to feature in four squads.

However, despite this incredible achievement, O’Driscoll will always be remembered for being the victim of Tana Umaga and Keven Mealamu’s vicious spear tackle during the 2005 tour.

14. Tommy Bowe (2009 and 2013)

Australia v British & Irish Lions: Game 3

Since the 1997 tour, the Lions have never been consistent in their selection of wingers. Form has determined that the likes of Ugo Monye, Luke Fitzgerald, Denis Hickey, Tyrone Howe and Sean Maitland have all seen action for the Lions.

However, unlike his rivals, Tommy Bowe has shown remarkable consistency, featuring in each of the three tests against South Africa in 2009 and in two of the three games with Australia in 2013.

15. Jason Robinson (2001 and 2005)

30 Jun 2001: Jason Robinson of British Lions takes on the Australia defence during the First Test Match against the Australian Wallabies at the Gabba Stadium in Brisbane, Australia. The Lions beat Australia 29 - 13. Mandatory Credit: Dave Rogers/Allsport

At his peak, Jason Robinson was the most exciting and best full back in the game. Possessing lightening pace and a wicked step, Robinson had the ability to open up any defence.

It is no surprise then that Robinson earned five Lions test caps between 2001 and 2005.

Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena

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Author: The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team.