With the Lions 2021 tour under threat of postponement or cancellation, 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 second of a two-parter, seven backs to have played for the Lions since the turn of the century have been selected.
21st century British and Irish Lions coaches XV
9. Rob Howley – Wales
The second player in this British and Irish Lions coaches XV who has both played and coached for the combined team is Rob Howley. The Welsh scrum half played two tests in 2001, after injury curtailed his chances on the 1997 tour.
After retiring the man from Bridgend moved into coaching with Cardiff Blues between 2005 and 2008 before joining the national set-up under Warren Gatland. This led to him becoming the Lions attack coach in 2009 and then 2013 with his national boss.
Howley is now an Assistant Coach for Canada, after he was suspended for gambling and famously left Wales just before they kicked off their 2019 World Cup campaign.
10. Ronan O’Gara – Ireland
A veteran of three tours this century, Ronan O’Gara is now carving out an equally impressive coaching career. His La Rochelle team are currently second in the Top 14, for whom he is Head Coach. They are his second French club, following his four years at Racing 92 where he coached compatriot Johnny Sexton. In-between this he was an Assistant Coach for the Crusaders in Super Rugby.
As a player O’Gara played 16 times in total for the Lions, scoring 124 points. Unfortunately, he will probably be best remembered for the 2009 second test in South Africa, when his garryowen led to the winning kick for the hosts in the final 30 seconds. However, this doesn’t take away from his hugely successful career.
11. Geordan Murphy – Ireland
Murphy played in the final test of the whitewashed 2005 tour, having played in five of the mid-week matches. He scored three tries on this tour. Primarily a fullback, Murphy shifts to the wing of this team, reflecting the relative lack of backs who’ve become high-profile coaches.
Unfortunately his coaching career to date hasn’t hit the heights of his playing days; the Irishman recently left as Director of Rugby at his only club, Leicester Tigers. He began well, becoming and Assistant Coach upon retiring in 2013. He played a key coaching role in the 2017 Anglo-Welsh Cup win, and eventually got the top job after Matt O’Connor was sacked after one match in 2018.
12. Stephen Jones – Wales
Lion #745 Stephen Jones made 10 appearances on the 2004 and 2009 tours, playing in all six test matches. In the aforementioned 2009 second test, Jones scored a record 20 points against the Springboks. He scored a total of 87 points over his two tours, playing five games on both.
He ended his career with Wasps in 2013 and immediately moved into coaching as their Attack Coach. After two years in this role, he returned to the Scarlets where he’d played for most of his career. He spent four years here as Backs Coach, during which time they won the PRO14. He is now Attack Coach for Wales, where he took over from Rob Howley just before the 2019 World Cup.
13. Mike Catt- England
Mike Catt OBE is a well-established international coach, and is currently working for his third Six Nations country. He sneaks into this British and Irish Lions coaches XV with just one appearance in a 21st century tour, caused by injury in 2001. His versatility to play fullback, centre and fly half made him an ideal Lions tourist, and helped him win 75 caps for England over a 13 year period.
Catt began his coaching career as London Irish Attack Coach, before moving onto England, Italy and now Ireland. It would not be a surprise to see him as a Lions coach in the future.
14. Jason Robinson – England
A name certainly known more for playing than coaching, Jason Robinson OBE played a total of 11 games over the 2001 and 2005 tours. He also played for Britain whilst a rugby league player.
Robinson was a surprise appointment as Sale Sharks Head Coach in 2009, for whom he played over 150 times. Aged just 35, Robinson and DoR Kingsley Jones narrowly avoided relegation on the penultimate weekend of the season. He left after this season, having admitted he hadn’t intended to move into coaching but wanted to help out his former club.
15. James Hook – Wales
Like Mike Catt, James Hook benefited and suffered from his versatility tag. Hook joined the 2009 tour after compatriot Leigh Halfpenny had to withdraw, eventually playing himself into the test squad, albeit not getting onto the pitch.
Hook is the most recent players to retire in this backline, having just moved into coaching in 2020. He is Skills and Kicking Coach at the Ospreys, his original team where he started and ended his playing career.
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