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10th Jun 2013

Lions Legends – Martin Johnson


The only man to have captained the Lions on two separate occasions, Martin Johnson will go down as one of the great leaders in the history of the tour.


Little did we think in 1997 that it would be at least another four tours before another captain would taste success. While we hope that Sam Warburton can match the exploits of Johnson on South African soil 16 years ago, he will do well to emulate his contribution to the British and Irish Lions.

The Leicester Tigers lock made his international debut in January 1993 and was a late call-up for the Lions Tour of New Zealand that same year when he replaced his international teammate Wade Dooley, in what was the last tour of the international era.

Johnson quickly established himself as a leader in international rugby, part of the England side that won the Grand Slam in 1995, and Ian McGeechan chose the Englishman to lead the side into battle for the 1997 tour of South Africa, one of the most memorable of all-time.

The tourists entered very much the underdogs against the world champions, who had a star-studded team at the time. The cornerstone of the team, clearly highlighted by the fly-on-the-wall documentary Living With The Lions was a huge team ethic and strong bond, with Johnson leading the way in that regard.

He asked no more of others than he would of himself, an attitude that was visible in Ian McGeechan and Jim Telfer, not to mention some of the senior members of the squad. The second Test in Durban, putting the series to bed with a dramatic drop-goal from Jeremy Guscott will live long in the memory.

Martin Johnson

Leading by example in Australia

Testament to Johnson’s skill and leadership was the fact that he was also asked to lead the Lions on the trip to Australia four years later, a remarkable achievement in itself. While defeat was their lot in spite of winning that epic game in Brisbane, he was at the forefront throughout and cemented his place in history.

Since 2001, Brian O’Driscoll, Paul O’Connell and Sam Warburton have been the men chosen to step into rather big boots. A huge achievement for those men personally, though whether anyone will ever lead two separate teams again remains to be seen.

JOE’s Lions coverage is brought to you in association with Kelloggs.