The British government had opposed the tour due to the sporting contact with the apartheid regime in South Africa. Despite the opposition, the rugby unions of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland all approved the tour by January 1980.
Syd Millar was installed as manager with Noel Murphy as the coach of the team that won every non-international match played on tour.
The squad contained only 10 players with previous Lions experience, including Derek Quinnell, Andy Irvine and Fran Cotton.
But the injury-ravaged squad called up eight more players to cover for the nine who were forced to drop out.
Two of these injured players would never play international rugby again. Just seconds into the first warm-up game against Eastern Province, Stuart Lane suffered a knee injury he would never fully recover from. Rodney O'Donnell then damaged his neck and was forced to retire.
Another six players, David Richard, Gareth Davies, Terry Holmes, Phil Blakeway and Cotton would all also leave the squad during the 10-week tour.
The Lions never really recovered from these losses and conceded five tries in the opening Test, scoring only one from Graham Price. Naas Botha converted three of the tries for South Africa and these were answered by five penalties and a drop goal by Tony Ward made the score 26-22 in the Springboks favour.
Bloemfontein was the scene for the second match where the Lions showed improvement by crossing for two tries but the Boks ran out comfortable 26-19 winners.
As the injuries situation worsened, expectations were low in the crucial third Test - but the Lions were only narrowly beaten.
Bruce Hay scored a try and Ollie Campbell added two penalties but the Springboks emerged with a 12-10 victory and a series win.
The Lions went into the final Test attempting to stop only the second-ever Lions whitewash and restored some pride as they won 17-13 in front of 68,000 spectators.
Despite losing the Test series 3-1, the Lions won the rest of their matches1980
May 10 v Eastern Province W 28-16
May 14 v SARA Invitation XV W 28-6
May 17 v Natal W 21-15
May 21 v South African Invitation XV W 22-19
May 24 v Orange Free State W 21-17
May 27 v South African Federation XV W 15-6
May 31 v South Africa L 22-26
June 4 v South African Country Districts XV W 27-7
June 7 v Transvaal W 32-12
June 10 v Eastern Transvaal W 21-15
June 14 v South Africa L 19-26
June 18 v Junior Springboks W 17-6
June 21 v Northern Transvaal W 16-9
June 28 v South Africa L 10-12
July 2 v South African Barbarians W 25-14
July 5 v Western Province W 37-6
July 8 v Griqualand West W 23-19
July 12 v South Africa W 17-13