After four long years for British and Irish fans, the Lions roar into life once again for the 2013 Tour of Australia and Sky Sports will be the only place to witness all the drama as a magical month of rugby unfolds.
Warren Gatland and his coaching staff will be looking to secure the first Lions series win since South Africa in 1997 and create a new breed of legends to wear the famous red jersey, led by captain Sam Warburton.
The Lions will be heading down under for the 125th anniversary tour to take on Australia in three test matches and a further six tour matches, with an additional game to kick-start the tour in Hong Kong against the famous Barbarians side on June 1.
A dozen years have passed since the Lions were last in Australia in 2001 where they got off to a flying start in the first Test.
Australia were left stunned by the loss and by the overwhelming support from the Lions fans that never faded despite the Wallabies rallying in the next two Tests to clinch the series 2-1.
Since then the last two Lions series in New Zealand and South Africa have ended in defeat, although a spirited Lions squad, led by captain Paul O’Connell, managed to restore some pride with victory in the final test against the then reigning Tri-Nations and World Cup champions four years ago in Johannesburg.
This was after the Lions agonisingly missed out on victory in both of the opening two tests against the Springboks.
Four more years have passed and now it is the turn of the Lions class of 2013 to deliver a series win for the first time in 16 years.
With the first test against Australia fast approaching, the 37 members of the squad who have travelled to the southern hemisphere will be determined to impress head coach Warren Gatland and stake their claim for a place in the starting 15.
Tour captain Sam Warburton, who had been odds-on favourite to be named skipper, is one of 15 Wales players selected by head coach Gatland for the trip down under.
Ireland have ten members of the touring party, including the talismanic figure of Brian O’Driscoll, while England will be represented by nine players and three Scots are also included in the 37-man squad.
Among the surprises in the announcements are call-ups for Saracens front-rows Matt Stevens and Mako Vunipola, while England captain Chris Robshaw and Scotland’s Kelly Brown missed out on selection.
Jonny Wilkinson is also omitted, with Jonathan Sexton and Owen Farrell preferred at fly-half.
Tommy Bowe, Dan Lydiate and Paul O’Connell are included after proving their fitness, while Sean Maitland, Richie Gray and Stuart Hogg will fly the flag for Scotland.
England hooker Dylan Hartley was originally selected but after being suspended for 11 weeks for his red card in Northampton’s Aviva Premiership final defeat to Leicester, he will miss the entire tour, with Ireland’s Rory Best called up as his replacement.
For the first time a Lions Tour starts off in Hong Kong where the Lions will warm-up against the Barbarians on June 1st before heading to Australia.
It will be the first time the Lions have played in Hong Kong and their second game against the Baa-Baas, after the two sides met at Twickenham in 1977 to mark the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, where the 2013 Lions tour manager Andy Irvine played for the Lions in their 23-14 win.
The battle for a starting place in the Test side will be fierce but the Lions will have plenty of opportunities to prove their worth as they take on Super Rugby sides Western Force, Queensland Reds, Waratahs and the Brumbies, as well as a combined NSW and Queensland side.
More and more supporters will land in Australia and gravitate towards the Lions team as the 2013 Tour builds momentum towards the Test Series.
Six tour matches will place before the first Test in Brisbane on June 22, and the series will be completed with the remaining two encounters against the Wallabies on June 29 in Melbourne and July 6 in Sydney respectively.
After six tour matches in the build-up the Red Army will march on to Brisbane for the first Test against the Wallabies in Brisbane on June 22, almost exactly twelve years on from when the Lions won the opening Test here 29-13.
Hopes will be high as the Lions head south to Melbourne for their final tour game against the Rebels on June 25.
So many sporting, historical and cultural venues in the city will keep the Red Army busy prior to another huge Test confrontation against the Wallabies at the Etihad Stadium on June 29.
The third and final Test takes place in Sydney on July 6, bringing an end to what promises to be a unforgetable month of international rugby.
All Lions’ fans will be hoping their team ends almost two decades of pain by claiming their outright series win since 1997, a fitting way to mark the 125th anniversary of the first Lions Tour in 1888.
Sky Sports will be showing every second of all 10 games from the 2013 British & Irish Lions Tour of Australia exclusively live.
It will be the fifth consecutive Lions Tour shown on Sky Sports after the subscription broadcaster secured live rights to the 2013 series last year.
There will be plenty of build-up programming to the tour including a preview of the series prior to the clash with the Barbarians (May 31 at 7pm, SS2), plus there will also be hour-long shows looking ahead to each test match against Australia.
Viewers can watch Lions Legends, a series looking at some of the greatest players ever to have worn the famous red jersey.
These will be complemented by special editions of Sporting Heroes and Time of Our Lives, highlights from previous tours and Living with Pride, a documentary series from 2009.
Five former British & Irish Lions, including the greatest coach in the history of the combined side, will spearhead Sky Sports on-air team for the 125th anniversary tour to Hong Kong and Australia.
Alex Payne will lead the presentation line-up on a Lions Tour for the first time as he presents live coverage of all ten games on the tour.
The on-air team will be based pitchside in Australia for the three showpiece Tests at the end of June and early July.
Experience commentary duo Miles Harrison and Stuart Barnes join forces for the fifth successive Lions Tour to commentate on every game of the 2013 Tour.
Studio pundits will include Will Greenwood, who was involved in three tours with the Lions, as well as Paul Wallace and Scott Quinnell, both part of the last squad to win a series in 1997.
Sir Ian McGeechan, the coach of that successful tour of South Africa as well as the 2009 Lions squad, will also be part of the Sky Sports punditry team, as will 1989 and 1993 Lions squad member Scott Hastings.
Michael Lynagh, who represented Australia against the Lions in 1989, will join the team for some of the games, while respected coach Dean Ryan will also be on hand to provide detailed match analysis.
Sky Sports News will keep viewers up to date with all the latest news and users of the Sky Sports for iPad app can access videos, updated news, match data and highlights.
As well as the all action on the pitch, fans can also stay bang up to date with all the goings on in Australia by watching online via Sky Go or by logging onto Sky Sports’ dedicated Lions Tour website, which also includes the latest news, features, interviews and video from the Sky Sports team in Australia.
Commenting on Sky’s coverage, three-time British & Irish Lion Will Greenwood said: “To be a Lion is the greatest accolade afforded to any British & Irish rugby player and the tours offer drama and excitement in equal measure.”
“Coverage on Sky Sports has helped build excitement and anticipation over the years, with not just the Tests but also every tour match shown live, and our schedule offers the perfect build up over the next few weeks.”
talkSPORT will broadcast exclusively live national radio commentary of a British & Irish Lions Tour for the first time in 2013.
The station beat competition from the BBC to broadcast all 10 British & Irish Lions matches, including the three Tests against Australia and the warm up match in Hong Kong against the Barbarians, on a multiplatform basis across 1089/1053AM, digital radio and online.
This will be the first time ever that a Lions tour has been exclusively broadcast on commercial radio in the UK, and follows on from talkSPORT’s exclusive commentaries from the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
The station has a dedicated weekly rugby programme ‘Full Contact’ and previously broadcast commentary of the three Test matches during the 2005 Lions Tour to New Zealand on a non-exclusive basis in the UK.
talkSPORT’s presentation and commentary team will include Mark Saggers, Brian Moore and Andrew McKenna.
Commenting on the deal last year, Moz Dee, the now-departed talkSPORT programme director, said: “The Lions Tour is one of the biggest events in sport, and we’re proud to be bringing this exclusively to our audience.
“We had a great Rugby World Cup in New Zealand and we can’t wait to follow the Lions in Australia.
“talkSPORT will be announcing a great team to cover the Tour and we’re delighted that our sister station Swansea Sound will also be broadcasting the Tests and giving our coverage a regional flavour.”
John Feehan, Lions Chief Executive, said: “talkSPORT has become a major force in UK sports radio with proven experience in live rugby broadcasting.
“It’s proper that the Lions Tour in its 125th year looks for dynamic new partners that benefit both our sponsors and fans and we’re extremely pleased to be working with talkSPORT.”
…Saturday 1st June Barbarians v British & Irish Lions Kick-off: 12:30 | Hong Kong Stadium, Hong Kong LIVE: 12.00pm-3.00pm – Sky Sports 1 Wednesday 5th June Western Force v British & Irish Lions Kick-off: 11:00 | Patersons Stadium, Perth LIVE: 10.30am-1.30pm – Sky Sports 1 Saturday 8th June Queensland Reds v British & Irish Lions Kick-off: 10:30 | Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane LIVE: 10.30am-1.30pm – Sky Sports 2 Tuesday 11th June Combined Country v British & Irish Lions Kick-off: 10:30 | Hunter Stadium, Newcastle LIVE: 10.00am-1.15pm – Sky Sports 2 Saturday 15th June NSW Waratahs v British & Irish Lions Kick-off: 10:30 | Sydney Football Stadium, Sydney LIVE: 10.30am-1.30pm – Sky Sports 2 Tuesday 18th June Brumbies v British & Irish Lions Kick-off: 10:30 | Canberra Stadium, Canberra LIVE: 10.00am-1.00pm – Sky Sports 1 Saturday 22nd June AUSTRALIA v BRITISH & IRISH LIONS – 1st Test Kick-off: 11:00 | Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane LIVE: 10.30am-1.30pm – Sky Sports 1 Tuesday 25th June Melbourne Rebels v British & Irish Lions Kick-off: 10:30 | AAMI Park, Melbourne LIVE: 10.00am-1.00pm – Sky Sports 1 Saturday 29th June AUSTRALIA v BRITISH & IRISH LIONS – 2nd Test Kick-off: 11:00 | Etihad Stadium, Melbourne LIVE: 10.00am-1.30pm – Sky Sports 1 Saturday 6th July AUSTRALIA v BRITISH & IRISH LIONS – 3rd Test Kick-off: 11:00 | ANZ Stadium, Sydney LIVE: 10.00am-1.30pm – Sky Sports 1