After the South African Rugby Board was formed in 1889, the committee decided one of the best ways to promote the game was to invite a British side to visit, similar to the British Isles tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1888. In September 1890 the Rugby Football Union (RFU) discussed the proposed tour; in attendance was Mr J Richards of Cape Town, who, as an Old Leysian, had connections to the English game. The tour was agreed, with Cecil Rhodes agreeing to guarantee any financial losses the tour may incur.
The first overseas British tour of 1888, was not sanctioned by the RFU, and therefore is often not recognised as an official Lions tour, so the South African Tests were actually the first matches that allowed the British players to be awarded international caps.
Captained by Scottish international Bill Maclagan, the British team consisted of players from English and Scottish clubs with a heavy contingent of members from Cambridge University teams. Of the players roughly half were, or would win national caps, and the majority of those who did not were former Cambridge Blues. Although containing four Scots, the fact that the tour was organised by the RFU, the team was initially recognised as an English team, but retrospectively gained its British Isles tag. The touring party had been selected by a committee composed of George Rowland Hill, the president of the RFU, R.S. Whalley, Harry Vassall, Arthur Budd and J.H.S. McArthur.
The British team took in twenty matches, three of them tests against the South African team. The tourists won all twenty matches conceding just a single try, which was scored against them in the very first game. Although the Test top scorer for the tourists was Arthur Rotherham, mainly because a conversion at the time was worth twice as much as a try; the tour's outstanding scorer was Randolph Aston. At six-foot three, and weighing 15 stones, Aston played in all 20 matches and was the unstoppable try scorer of the tour. Out of the 89 tries scored by the British team, Aston scored 30 including the first try against the South African team in the first Test.
The tourists played in red and white hooped shirts and dark blue shorts.Manager: Edwin Ash
William Grant Mitchell (Cambridge University and Richmond)
Edward Bromet (Cambridge University)
Paul Robert Clauss (Oxford University and Scotland)
Randolph Aston (Cambridge University)
Bill Maclagan (London Scottish and Scotland) (captain)
Howard Marshall (Richmond)
B.G. Roscoe (Lancashire)
Arthur Rotherham (Cambridge University)
William Wotherspoon (Cambridge University and Scotland)
William Bromet (Oxford University)
John Harding Gould (Old Leysians)
Johnny Hammond (Cambridge University)
Froude Hancock (Somerset)
Walter Jesse Jackson (Gloucester)
Robert MacMillan (London Scottish and Scotland)
Edwin Mayfield (Cambridge University)
Clement Pearson Simpson (Cambridge University)
Aubone Surtees (Cambridge University)
Robert Thompson (Cambridge University)
William Henry Thorman (Cambridge University)
Thomas Sherren Whittaker (Lancashire)
South Africa Ben Duff, Harry Boyes, Chubb Vigne, Mosey van Buuren, Alfred Richards, Frank Guthrie, Oupa Versfeld, Bill Bisset, Herbert Hayton Castens (capt.), Tiger Devenish, Japie Louw, Edward Little, Fred Alexander, GA Merry, Frank Hamilton
British Isles William Grant Mitchell, Paul Robert Clauss, Randolph Aston, Bill Maclagan (capt.), Arthur Rotherham, William Wotherspoon, William Bromet, John Harding Gould, Johnny Hammond, Froude Hancock, Robert MacMillan, Clement Pearson Simpson, Aubone Surtees, Robert Thompson, Thomas Sherren Whittaker
South Africa Ben Duff, Harry Boyes, Chubb Vigne, Arthur de Kock, Alfred Richards, Jackie Powell, Oupa Versfeld, Bob Snedden (capt.), Bob Shand, Wilfred Trenery, Japie Louw, DW Smith, Fred Alexander, Fairy Heatlie, CW Smith
British Isles William Grant Mitchell, Paul Robert Clauss, Randolph Aston, Bill Maclagan (capt.), Howard Marshall, Edward Bromet, William Bromet, John Harding Gould, Johnny Hammond, Froude Hancock, Robert MacMillan, Edwin Mayfield, Aubone Surtees, Robert Thompson, Thomas Sherren Whittaker
South Africa Ben Duff, AJ Hartley, Chubb Vigne, Hasie Versfeld, Alfred Richards (capt.), Frank Guthrie, Oupa Versfeld, Bill Bisset, Bob Shand, CG van Renen, Japie Louw, Edward Little, JA McKendrick, Fairy Heatlie, TW Chignell
British Isles William Grant Mitchell, Paul Robert Clauss, Randolph Aston, Bill Maclagan (capt.), Howard Marshall, Arthur Rotherham, William Bromet, Edward Bromet, Johnny Hammond, Froude Hancock, Robert MacMillan, Edwin Mayfield, Aubone Surtees, Robert Thompson, Thomas Sherren Whittaker