A British and Irish Lions tour is something surreal, for both players and fans
JOHANNESBURG - The British and Lions Tour holds a special place in the heart of world rugby … it harkens back to what the game was, and reveals what it has become, and encompasses the glory, the camaraderie and fraternity that separates the sport from all others.
For many players, honoured enough to play against the combined might of the four home nations, it is the nadir of their careers, whether it be at provincial or Test level. For many supporters, it is a 12-year long wait to build new memories and remember fondly the year that the Lions returned to once again wrestle pride and supremacy away from the Springboks.
That was the decree of Springbok legend John Smit on Thursday when the series sponsor was revealed to be Castle Lager for next year's tour at FNB Stadium, which will host the first Test between the two combatants on July 24 next year.
Said the former captain of the Boks, who led the national team in the hardcore 2009 series: "One of the best experiences, and the best stories I have ever told, was my experience playing for the Sharks against the British and Irish Lions in Durban."
"I think it was my second first class game, I was 19-years-old," Smit continued, "and to be able to go on 12 years later and to experience it full on was a privilege. The youngsters who get that opportunity, even if I ever only played the Lions in 97, I would have held onto that thing. I still have that jersey.
"It is just something that you can't mimic anywhere else and that experience is what will get the youngsters (next year) super hungry to fight for that green and gold jersey and, hopefully, hold onto it."
👍 Always a pleasure when our friends at Castle Lager are involved. Cheers to a great launch of the #CastleLionsSeries earlier today! @CastleLagerSA @lionsofficial @LionsSeries #StrongerTogether #FiveNationsOneBeer pic.twitter.com/fzZJNLCanN— Springboks (@Springboks) November 5, 2020
It was a sentiment shared by fellow Bok legend Beast Mtwarira and 2019 World Rugby player of the year Pieter-Steph du Toit, who will no doubt be involved in 2021. Beast was a newfangled Springbok in 2009, having made his debut for the Boks a year earlier against Wales, and the 2019 World Cup winner recalled his Lions experience fondly with a smile and a chuckle.
"I think it is surreal (playing against the Lions), it certainly was for me to be a part of that (2000) team," said Beast in his trademark baritone. "It comes around every 12 years, so not a lot of players get the opportunity to play against the Lions …
"The Lions tour was massive for me. To rub shoulders with the likes of Juan (Smith) and Bakkies (Botha) and Victor (Matfield), guys who had won the World Cup in 2007, was just a huge honour. The atmosphere at a Lions game is just incredible, it is nothing like you have ever seen."
"I was raring to go with the energy and excitement," Beast continued later of the 2009 Test series. "My advice to the young guys would be, a part of it is to just enjoy the occasion, take it for what it is, because it is a huge honour. Guys that have won the world cup, haven't had the chance to face the Lions, so you have to embrace it for what it is and just go out there and play your best rugby."
For PSTD, if he is fit and remains so, it will be another feather in the 28-year-old's cap. The 2019 World Cup winner was 17-years-old when John Smit and Co rectified the disastrous defeat of 1997 12 years later, and when asked about his feelings around the upcoming tour, it sparked a joyous memory of sibling rivalry and love.
"All three games, me and my parents and my brothers watched at our house and I always say if you watch a Springbok game at our house, you don't want to be a supporter there because it is just crazy there.
"Everything gets duplicated there ...
"For instance, I remember when Heinrich Brussow (in 2009) just picked up one of the players as a bag of potatoes and threw him off the field and then, the same thing happened in our living room. So, after the game, we always went to play and always dreamt about playing for the Boks and against the Lions."
🔊 LISTEN: Hear from four Springbok heroes as we celebrate one year since that amazing Rugby World Cup final victory over England ➡️ https://t.co/IjZBe16ANh#StrongerTogether #ChasingTheSun @Beast_TM @FloLouw @StevenKitshoff pic.twitter.com/E7tchqMbje— Springboks (@Springboks) November 2, 2020
Good times, great memories and next year a new batch, through victory or defeat, are surely to me made anew.