Northern Transvaal, later to become the Blue Bulls, first played against the British & Irish Lions in 1938, the year that they became an independent union.
It was the Lions’ sixth visit to South Africa after they had been invited to send a touring side to South Africa in 1891.
It was the very first officially sanctioned international rugby tour. Consisting of only Scottish and English players and including only four internationals plus seven club players and ten students, the 1891 tourists won all 19 official matches and an impromptu unofficial last outing and conceded only one point (a try!) on tour.
The tour was organised by the RFU, and the tourists were initially referred to as an English team, as were the 1896 tourists.
The 1896 team won all but two of their matches – a draw against Western Province with South Africa winning the last ‘test’ 5-0. Alf Larard scored the converted winning try.
On both tours the visiting teams were little more than promising players thrown together in the style of an invitation tour.
Northern Transvaal from 1938
Danie Craven, in Northern Transvaal’s third match and only his first for the new union due to work commitments elsewhere, was the Light Blues’ first captain. He also scored their first points (a dropped goal) against an international side.
The 1938 Lions won 20-12 after a late converted try sealed matters.
Craven was the first of ten players who captained the Springboks while playing for Northern Transvaal.
Northern Transvaal and the Blue Bulls have beaten the B&I Lions twice in their seven matches. The B&I Lions won by seven points or less in four matches with the eight points winning margin in Northern Transvaal’s very first international match in 1938 still the highest.
No other SA provincial team has beaten the Lions twice after 1938.
Northern Transvaal/Bulls scores vs B&I Lions
1938: Lions won 20-12 (WP won both their matches)
1955: Lions won 14-11
1962: Northern Transvaal won 14-6 (with Eastern Transvaal, 19-16, the only other province to win)
1968: Lions won 22-19
1974: Lions won 16-12 (Lions unbeaten on tour)
1980: Lions won 16-9 (Lions unbeaten outside the tests)
1997: Northern Transvaal won 35-30 (Only Lions defeat outside third test. N.Tvl became the Bulls in October 1997)
2009: Bulls did not play tourists
Lions tours to South Africa
The British rugby side playing on tours to the Southern Hemisphere was first called the Lions by the South African press in 1924 after the lion emblem on their ties.
The Lions, with players from the UK and also Ireland, have toured South Africa 13 times since 1891. They won the first two series in 1891 and 1896 against the local so-called Representative sides that were later to be given test status and were selected from the two British Colonies (Natal and the Cape) and the two Boer Republics of the Free State and Transvaal well before South Africa became a unified country in 1910.
The Lions, after those two initial tours, were beaten in the series in 1903, 1910, 1924, 1938, 1962, and 1968 and drew the 1955 series two tests each. They then shocked the Springboks in 1974, winning three tests and drawing the fourth, lost the 1980 series and had their second series success in the twentieth century by winning the first two of three tests in 1997.
The Lions lost the 2009 series when the Bulls’ Morné Steyn kicked a last-gasp 53 metres penalty in the second test to put the three-test series beyond them.
Tests (SA first)
Series played: 13 (SA won 8, drew 1, lost 4)
Tests played: Played 46 (SA wins 23, Lions wins 17, Drawn 6, SA points 600, Lions points 516)