21st century British and Irish Lions coaches XV – the forwards

While we wait to find out if the Lions 2021 tour will go ahead, we are looking back at the previous five tours that have taken place in the last 20 years. Specifically, those players who have gone on to become coaches since retiring. James Barker has assembled a 21st century British and Irish Lions coaches XV. In the first of a two-parter, eight forwards to have played for the Lions since the turn of the century have been selected.

21st century British and Irish Lions coaches XV

1. Graham Rowntree – England

It is fitting that the first player on the list has been on multiple tours as a player and coach. Rowntree toured South Africa in 1997 and New Zealand in 2005, making a total of 13 appearances.

His coaching career started at his only club, Leicester Tigers, but he quickly became England’s Forwards Coach in 2007. He was selected for the same role for the Lions tours in 2013 and 2017, in which he helped deliver a series win and a draw.

Since leaving England, Rowntree has been Forwards Coach at Harlequins, for Georgia and is now currently at Munster.

2. Dorian West – England

Hooker Dorian West only made it onto the pitch once during the 2001 Australia tour, but he was a replacement for the final two Test matches. Like Rowntree, he was part of the all-conquering Leicester Tigers team at the turn of the millennium.

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Since retiring in 2004, West built his coaching reputation at Northampton Saints, eventually winning the Premiership title in 2014. The former policeman spent 11 years at Franklin’s Gardens in total. He is now Forwards Coach at Sale Sharks, whom he joined in 2018.

3. Adam Jones РWales 

The first Welshman in this team is tighthead Adam Jones, who toured as a player in 2009 and 2013. In the first tour, he formed the first all-Welsh Test front row since 1955 alongside Gethin Jenkins and Matthew Rees. He made a total of five Test starts, including all three in the 2013 winning tour.

He moved to Harlequins as a player/coach, working alongside Graham Rowntree. Since retiring in 2018 he has been Scrum Coach at the Stoop, combining with other distinguished former players Nick Evans and Jerry Flannery.

4. Paul O’Connell – Ireland

The only 21st century triple tourist in this forward pack, Paul O’Connell captained the Lions in 2009 and played all three Tests in 2005. In total he made 6 appearances in the red shirt, scoring one try.

After being forced to retire in 2016, O’Connell began as an advisor to the Munster academy, before moving onto the Ireland Under 20 Assistant Coach role. After a year there he became Forwards Coach at Stade Francais, working with fellow Irishman Mike Prendergast. Again, he only remained in position for one year, before devoting efforts to punditry with the BBC and ITV for international matches.

O’Connell was recently announced as Ireland Men’s Forwards Coach ahead of the 2021 Six Nations, replacing the number eight in this team (see below).

5. Scott Murray – Scotland

The only Scot in this British and Irish Lions coaches XV forward pack is Scott Murray, who toured Australia in 2001.¬† He played five games, most memorably against the Brumbies in a 30-28 win, but didn’t win a Test cap.

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Murray had a nomadic career, playing in all three major European leagues for Saracens, Edinburgh and Castres amongst others. He has continued this theme in coaching; the 44-year-old is currently co-Head Coach of San Diego Legion in the US Major League Rugby. Before this, he coached at Mont-de-Marsan in France, Scotland A until he headed across the Atlantic.

6. Joe Worsley – England

Joe Worsley had been to three Rugby World Cups before his first Lions tour, in 2009. He made five starts in the midweek and tour matches, before eventually pulling on the red jersey in the third Test.

A one-club man for Wasps, Worsley was forced to retire in 2011. His first coaching break came via his former teammate Raphael Ibanez, who made him Bordeaux-Begles Defence Coach in 2012. After compatriot Rory Teague left as Head Coach in 2018, Worsley took over and remained so until 2019.

After a brief stint as a technical advisor to Georgia during the 2019 Rugby World Cup, he returned to France and is now coaching at Castres.

7. Neil Back – England

The oldest man to start a Test for the Lions (against the All Blacks in 2005), Neil Back toured all three SANZAR countries, from 1997 to 2005, playing in 16 matches and scoring five tries.

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Back became a player/coach at Leicester in 2003, eventually retiring after that 2005 tour. He had various roles for the Tigers including Academy Head Coach. He finally ended his association with Leicester in 2008 when he took over as Head Coach of Leeds Carnegie from Stuart Lancaster. He guided them to promotion and then kept them in the Premiership despite their limited budget, finishing in 10th place.

8. Simon Easterby – Ireland

Rounding up the forward pack of this British and Irish Lions coaches XV is Simon Easterby. The English-born Irish international was selected for the 2005 tour after Lawrence Dallaglio’s injury, and forced his way into the Test team. He scored a try in the second Test against New Zealand and played five matches in total.

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Having spent most of his playing career at the Scarlets, Easterby became their Defence Coach and eventually Head Coach in 2014. From here he joined up with the Ireland set-up again in 2016 as Forwards Coach. As mentioned above, he has recently changed role due to Paul O’Connell’s arrival, and he is now Defence Coach under Andy Farrell.


The second half of this 21st century British and Irish Lions coaches XV will be published soon. Keep up to date with all the world’s rugby action via @LWOSrugby and LWOS Boards.

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