The Lions are a touring rugby union team made up of players from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. They are also known as the British and Irish Lions (or British Lions if your history book only covers the years 1801-1922), but the official name of the squad is simply "The Lions". Every four years, a squad is put together representing the best players from each of the four nations, which tours to a country in the Southern Hemisphere (Australia, New Zealand or South Africa), taking on local sides as well as the national teams. Normally three test matches against the national team of the host nation are played, this series being the main event of the tour. A place in the Lions' touring squad is much coveted by all who play the game in Britain and Ireland, and a place in the starting side in a test match is quite an accolade. The team is chosen purely on merit, and there is no requirement to fulfil a quota of players from each of the nations.
The history of the Lions goes back to 1888, although the first fully representative touring side chosen on merit travelled to South Africa in 1910. The 95 test matches played over the years demonstrate the superiority of the Southern Hemisphere game, with the Lions winning only 37. However, the game has entered a new era of professionalism in Britain and Ireland of late, and the success of the 1997 tour to South Africa boded well for the 2001 test series in Australia. However, despite fielding perhaps the strongest test side in many years, and scoring a dazzling victory over the Wallabies in the first test, the Lions lost the second and third test matches, handing a 2-1 series victory to Australia.
The next tour will take place in 2005, in New Zealand.