Jim Morton,
May 29, 2013, 8:43 am

Rod Macqueen had never seen a dressing room like it in his four years masterminding the Wallabies' golden era.

Rattled, blown away, shellshocked.

Halfway through the First Test of the 2001 Lions tour, Macqueen's world-beaters couldn't believe what they were witnessing, and receiving.

The British and Irish Lions, spurred on by a sea of red-cloaked British supporters numbering 15,000 but sounding like all 38,000 fans jammed into the Gabba, were carving up Australia.

"We were getting slaughtered," Wallabies centre Daniel Herbert recalls.

With a young Jonny Wilkinson steering the fastest backline Herbert had ever opposed - featuring the likes of Brian "Waltzing" O'Driscoll, Jason Robinson and Iain Balshaw - the tourists brought the 1999 World Cup champions down to earth with a 29-13 thud.

"At halftime there was a bit of shock for the first time for the players," coach Macqueen told AAP. "They looked like they really didn't know what was happening.

"They had been taken by surprise."

This was a team that was ranked No.1 in Test rugby and contained some of Australia's greatest-ever rugby players - John Eales, George Gregan, Stephen Larkham, Toutai Kefu and a young George Smith.

And it didn't let up in the Second Test a week later in Melbourne, when the Lions' big pack marched on with the likes of Martin Johnson, Scott Quinnell and Richard Hill dominant.

"They just kept running through us," Herbert said. "They made so many line breaks straight through the middle of the ruck.

"We looked to be a team that was out of sorts and shellshocked."

But almost in the blink of an eye, it all turned.

Extremely lucky to be down just 11-6 at halftime in the Second Test, winger Joe Roff intercepted a Wilkinson pass within 30 seconds of the resumption and scored in the corner.

It was a massive momentum shift. Australia went on to post 29 second-half points for a record 35-14 win over the Lions, and then won the thrilling decider 29-23 in Sydney.

After 102 years, over six different series, the Wallabies had finally beaten the best from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales to claim the Tom Richards Trophy.

And 12 years later, it starts again.

On June 22, again in Brisbane, but this time at Suncorp Stadium, the 2013 series will kick off and the might of the Home Nations will start favourites.

The Lions will have six games to get themselves well-grooved before the First Test, starting with this Saturday night's tour-opener against the Barbarians in Hong Kong.

The Wallabies, in contrast, will be three weeks without match practice, with Robbie Deans instead putting 25 top players through their paces in a preparation camp.

Before the Lions' last epic tour Down Under, their dominance over Australia had been shown by a one-sided record of 14 wins from 17 Tests.

They'd stolen the previous series 12 years earlier, in 1989, when David Campese threw "that pass" on his goal-line which Welshman Ieuan Evans snaffled to score and set up a 19-18 victory in the deciding Test in Sydney.

The pain of the heart-breaking defeat is still shown by then captain Nick Farr-Jones last month admitting it's the only regret he has from his playing career.

Australia won the first Test in a canter, 30-12, but the second was a bloodbath as the tourists won 19-12 by employing tactics which prompted Wallabies coach Bob Dwyer to call the Lions the dirtiest team he'd seen.

Campese's no-look pass to an unsuspecting Greg Martin allowed them to escape with the series win.

But in 2001, it was Roff, with his intercept, and another Australian, debutant second-rower Justin Harisson, who helped the home side escape.

Trailing by six in the final two minutes at the Olympic Stadium, the Lions set up for a lethal driving maul off a lineout 20m from the line.

But, instead of preparing to defend the maul, Harrison backed himself to jump and beat Johnson to the throw, guaranteeing victory.

"Momentum is a funny thing," said Herbert, who scored two tries in the decider before being sin-binned for a coathanger tackle on O'Driscoll. "They had all of it and we had none of it.

"We were only a score away from being blown off the park again in Melbourne, but then it just snowballed our way after Roffy's try."

Herbert fully expects, for the third series on the trot, the two evenly-matched sides will be separated by another clutch play.

What the 2001 series did do for Australian rugby was change how the Wallabies were supported.

Embarrassed by the sea of red in Brisbane, as the throng of Brits proudly wore their Lions' jerseys and scarfs, the ARU successfully created a golden army for the final two Tests.

There's been little to smile about for the touring Lions since.

They were whitewashed by New Zealand in 2005 as Dan Carter produced a five-eighth masterclass across the three Tests and Lions captain O'Driscoll suffered shoulder damage when ironed out at the back of an early ruck by Keven Mealamu and Tana Umaga in the First Test.

O'Driscoll's countryman Paul O'Connell led them to South Africa in 2009 but they blew a huge chance by giving up a big second-half lead in the Second Test after losing the first.

Led by Kiwi coach Warren Gatland, who has picked a big and powerful squad littered with a large contingent of his Six Nations-winning Welsh side, the Lions are desperate for their first series victory in 16 years since their 2-1 result in South Africa.

"I don't know if they're as good as the '01 Lions but they've got a hell of a lot of firepower," Herbert warned.