There may never be another Lions tour like it, with tears, talk of mutiny in the ranks, accusations, explosive player diaries and a head coach who appeared increasingly isolated.

Even the Celts v English media football match wasn’t without its controversies, with one writer complaining he’d been on the wrong end of a less-than-textbook tackle.

With hindsight, maybe the injured scribe’s protests were fairly low down the list of major concerns on the trip, as sore as he felt.

How did the 2001 Lions adventure to Australia go so badly wrong?

How did it end in bitterness and recriminations?

How disillusioned did overlooked Welsh players become?

And as for certain players who wrote newspaper diaries that landed them in trouble, were they part of “an age-old story. Betraying trust, and betraying your mates for 30 pieces of silver,” as their head coach on the trip, Graham Henry, later wrote?

So many questions, with the one certainty being that there wasn’t an abundance of happy campers on that tour two decades ago.

Problems even before the first scrum

Issues began to pile up before anyone had left the British Isles.

Henry’s choice as head coach had been controversial.

Wales had been crushed 46-12 by England at Twickenham three months before his appointment. The Western Mail’s John Billot, writing in the Rugby Annual for Wales, reckoned Henry’s side had “looked as dead as a breakfast kipper”.

In the 2001 Six Nations Wales had finished below every other home nation, with England walloping them 44-15 in Cardiff.

Yet Henry picked 10 Welsh players in his Lions squad that summer.

Plenty felt that was too many, and plenty also felt England coach Clive Woodward, whose side finished champions that year, should have headed up the Lions trip. Woodward allegedly branded the decision to appoint the first non-Briton or Irishman to the role as “a joke”.

Lions tour boss Donal Lenihan had recommended Henry for the job after hearing that the soon-to-be Sir Clive didn’t do a lot of actual coaching, leaving much of it to his assistants.

In his memoir, My Life in Rugby, Lenihan wrote: “I appointed Henry, and Woodward was raging. His nose was out of joint from the outset. There was to be rancour from day one.”

Henry needed a good tour to silence those who had doubted whether he should have landed the job in the first place.

But it was to prove hugely challenging.

Fate turns against Henry

The gods seemed to have it in for the New Zealander from the off.

The highly infectious livestock disease foot-and-mouth of 2001 meant that Ireland’s Six Nations fixtures against the three other home nations were pushed back to the autumn.

Irish players thus saw their international campaign temporarily halted after February 17.

In Wales, there was concern that players didn’t have enough top-class matches to bring them up to speed to face the world-champion Wallabies, with the Welsh-Scottish League never in danger of being confused with Super Rugby.

Nor was the standard great at every Welsh club.

By contrast, England were seen as being ahead of every other home nation in terms of fitness.

The standard was uneven, then.

Henry’s answer was to serve up a severe pre-tour training camp that stretched players to their limits.

Graham Henry admits he made mistakes as the 2001 tour was undermined by internal rifts
Graham Henry endured a challenging time as Lions head coach

Understandably, not every member of the English contingent could see the point of such intensive training, particularly as they approached the end of an 11-month season.

They weren’t the last to feel disgruntled that summer.

The die is cast

The first morning of the trip saw a press conference in Perth with Henry in fine form, chatting amiably with the media after the formal part of proceedings finished. His squad had seemed strong on paper, built as it was around 18 Englishmen. There also seemed a clear outline of a Test XV.

Sun streamed into that room in Fremantle and laughter could be heard as Henry shot the breeze with scribes. It almost might have appeared all was well in the world.

It wasn’t.

After the first game against Western Australia, sore and aching players went into a two-hour training session the morning after. One later said: “It was the last thing any of us wanted to do.”

There were grumbles among players, who soon began to realise there wasn’t going to be much time to socialise much together.

They would sleep, eat, train, play, do media interviews and jump on and off aeroplanes, then repeat the cycle.

How different it had seemed in 1997.

Most of the class of 2001 had seen the Living With The Lions video, when everything had seemed so much fun, with smiling faces interspersed with shots of great drama and inspirational speeches and deeds. History was being made on that trip in a way that seemed enjoyable.

But there didn’t immediately seem much to relish about 2001.

Dear diary....

The tour opened with three straight wins before a loss to Australia A as injuries began to pile up.

There had been whispers of a growing discontent among some.

Some thought their chances of Test selection had been next to non-existent from the word go. Midweek skipper Dai Young said during the tour: “Most of the players felt the Test team was pencilled in before we came out here, on the strength of Six Nations Championship form. There has just not been enough time to turn that form over.”

Coach Henry had done little to dispel those suggestions.

Certain players began to feel like second-class citizens. Before training for the game with New South Wales Country, the dirt-trackers were told to try to imitate the Wallabies, to test out the Lions’ Test team’s defence. Tour skipper Martin Johnson later wrote : “This snub really upset them, and understandably so.

“They needed to prepare mentally and tactically for their own game, and were not going to be able to do it. Some felt this meant they did not count and were in Australia just as cannon fodder.”

Something had to give, and it did, in the shape of Matt Dawson’s tour diary in The Daily Telegraph on the eve of the first Test.

Under a headline ‘Harsh regime tears us apart’, the England scrum-half waded into the tour management, suggesting he wasn’t inspired by Henry and claiming that team manager Lenihan treated the squad “like kids”.

He reckoned the “mindless” training regimes were long and severe, with the squad being flogged.

Here was Fletcher Christian for our times.

Matt Dawson and Austin Healey on the 2001 Lions tour

Coincidentally, within 10 days of the tour starting, Austin Healey had told his ghost writer Eddie Butler of growing discontent within the ranks. “‘Mutiny’ was the very word he used,” Butler later said..

Even so, the Lions went on to win the first Test with a performance for the ages. Scott Quinnell enjoyed one of his finest hours and Brian O’Driscoll was on a different level, with Richard Hill, Jason Robinson and Martin Johnson exceptional, too.

How must Dawson have felt?

In his autobiography, Johnson reported that the No. 9 had been upset, embarrassed and concerned at what the consequences might be. “At worst, there was the possibility of an early flight back to the UK. I said: ‘Mate, if they send you home, we are all going home.’ I meant that. As a friend and team-mate, my loyalty to him was unquestionable.”

Popular with the other players, Dawson didn’t go home on the next plane, but he was forced to sit in front of everyone like a naughty schoolboy and say sorry — Johnson’s words.

The spirit of Pepys, act 2

It wasn’t all over on the diary front.

This time it was Healey who summoned the spirit of Samuel Pepys.

Heading into the final Test, he took aim at Australia’s second row Justin Harrison in a diary piece in The Guardian ghosted by Butler, calling him “an ape, a plank and a plod”.

Did it give the Wallabies extra motivation for the decider? Some felt it did, others didn’t.

Whatever, the hosts were victorious in the final Test, with Harrison’s line-out steal near the end averting a potential Lions try that could have won them the game and the series.

Henry had his say in his book, Henry’s Pride, saying : "It really was an age-old story. Betraying trust, and betraying your mates for 30 pieces of silver."

The two players didn’t think it was anything of the sort.

But both copped fines for their efforts.

Healey returned serve in his own tome, Lions, Tigers and Roses, telling a tale of how some players on the tour had referred to Henry as “that Kiwi runt”. He later suggested the phrase had been part of a rhyme he’d made up on a night out, with runt rhyming with punt. It could have been worse.

It had all become a bit silly.

Henry pointed a finger at Butler, while the former Wales No. 8 himself ripped into the New Zealander, writing in The Guardian : “You can watch videos in a cold store in Isleworth. That was about as close as Henry got to his team in Australia. Week after week I would meet players, most of them with columns of their own, and ask them how things were going. Week after week, to a man they would roll their eyes and say that the tour was a living hell.”

Henry, he reckoned, didn’t understand the mentality of the players of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.

“Subsequently, Austin has been called childish and unprofessional. Well, nothing was more childish than running a Lions tour like a prep school from the 1950s — like a junior boot camp. Or more unprofessional than allowing the majority of your workforce to become so disaffected that, yes, they nearly revolted.

“If Henry had won, his style might have become the template for the professional game. A Lions tour is a warm-blooded, emotional, passionate rollercoaster of an adventure. Graham Henry brought to it the warmth of a North Sea cod.”

Ouch.

That old adage about never picking a fight with a man who buys his ink by the barrel?

There might be something in it.

The coach once known as The Great Redeemer

Henry tried hard and the tour did mean a huge amount to him.

The man once known in Wales as the Great Redeemer confessed at one point that he’d endured sleeplessness in trying to find answers to the multiple questions being posed.

But he discovered that what had worked with Wales didn’t necessarily work with players from other countries.

His man-management was a problem, with his headmasterly style not to everyone’s taste. As Johnson said later, morale also plummeted in the wider group after the decision to concentrate on the Test side and not so much on the rest, rupturing the sense of togetherness.

Some players even felt Henry didn’t rate them.

Graham Henry led the Lions in Australia in 2001
Graham Henry led the Lions in Australia in 2001

There was talk of the New Zealander becoming increasingly isolated.

The trip must have been a hugely challenging experience for a man whose word had long appeared law in the Wales set-up.

Alienated Welsh players

Try these for quotes from Colin Charvis the day after the tour finished. “This should have been the pinnacle of my career and left me feeling great about playing for Swansea and Wales next season. Instead it has left me with the impression that I am a sub-standard player.

“I feel I am not good enough.

“It may be a harsh personal assessment and people may say it is self-pitying, but it is not by coincidence that I played a lot fewer games than other players.

“It’s not my place to criticise Graham Henry. Graham has been Graham. He has not said much.

“It’s been: ‘Hello, Colin. How are you going?’ There hasn’t really been any other communication.”

Charvis, an outstanding player, started just two games on tour.

Mark Taylor told this writer on the morning of the final Test: “After a tour like this it will take four to six weeks before you want to get back into rugby. Personally, I am sick of the sight of rugby pitches at present.”

Taylor did not feature in a Saturday match.

Others had similar tales of frustration.

Plenty of observers asked the question: How could Henry tell those players he had belief in them the following season when he hadn’t rated them enough to cap them in the Tests Down Under?

Problems for the future had been locked in.

Jonny Wilkinson falls to his knees after the Lions' defeat in the third Test against Australia in 2001

It all ends in tears...and silence

Had Richard Hill not been elbowed out of the series by Nathan Grey in the second Test, the Lions could have returned home victorious.

But it wasn't to be.

Henry later said he’d learned more from the tour than any other coaching experience he'd had. "I did not do things as well as I should have and made some wrong decisions. If I had got them right, we would have won the series. I thought I could do the job, but I was green as an international coach then. I now know that the position of Lions head coach is the most demanding in Test rugby."

It was admirable self-analysis from a man who could come across as aloof to those who didn’t know him, despite friends insisting he had a warm side.

The BBC later broadcast a recording from inside the Lions dressing room after the final Test. Lenihan could be heard making a speech that ended with him saying “you couldn’t have done any more boys,” and breaking down in tears.

Applause greeted his talk.

Henry then praised the players’ character but his words were less emotional.

There was a muted reaction to the New Zealander.

Within seven months he had quit as Wales coach, a shell of the figure he’d appeared when he took over in 1998.

But he went on to change his style, becoming less dictatorial in his methods. “It went from a ‘me and them’ environment to an ‘us' environment,” he said years later.

He led New Zealand to World Cup final glory in 2011.

Woodward won a World Cup with England in 2003 but endured a disastrous Lions tour to New Zealand two years later, losing 3-0 to an All Blacks side coached by Henry.

Landing the Lions coaching job is one of rugby's biggest honours.

But turning it into a success is one of sport's biggest challenges.

Always, it can go one of two ways.

For Henry, sadly, it went the wrong way.