Former Springboks skipper John Smit at Thursday’s Lions Tour sponsorship announcement. Photo: @Springboks on twitter
Former Springboks skipper John Smit at Thursday’s Lions Tour sponsorship announcement. Photo: @Springboks on twitter

SA Rugby building a 'Castle' around incoming Lions tour

By Morgan Bolton Time of article published Nov 5, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG - "Ja, man, there is this youngster on the horizon, Fransie Steyn … I really hope he gets a look in," said former Springbok John Smit, as a cackle of laughter erupted around him.

The 2007 Rugby World Cup winner and legend of the South African game cracked the joke, with a giggle mind you, of his former teammate and double World Cup winner at Thursday's series sponsorship announcement of the British and Irish Lions Tour to South Africa at the cavernous and intimidating FNB Stadium in Soweto, Johannesburg.

And Smith, who captained the Springboks the last time the Lions graced our shores in 2009, continued to reveal his insights regarding the highly anticipated 2021 series and the the role that newfangled South African youngsters could play in it, saying: "I think we have already seen it, the glimpses of some exciting youngsters being given an opportunity in this SuperRugby Unlocked series.

"I think you need that young blood … It was the likes of Heinrich (Brussow) and Beastie (Tendai Mtwarira) that ignited even more fire within us old dogs in 2009. There is always that balance you have to keep on injecting with players … I really hope we can discover a new Heinrich, and a new Beast.

"The difficulty is that there is just not enough rugby to see who those guys are, so it will be a brave coach to pick too many of those youngsters, if there isn't enough chance to see them play."

Admittedly, and all jokes aside, there was an overarching undertone of concern and fore-warning from Smit, who believed that the Lions will be much better prepared for the three-Test match series in July next year. That fear, it was revealed, has a root of indubitable logic behind it.

The facts are clear: The world champion Boks have been hit hard this year by the Covid-19 pandemic, missing 13 scheduled Test matches in the process. Coupled with the reality that they will face a Lions side packed with hardened and match fit players, and new Bok coach Jacques Nienaber at the helm, and Smit's concerns have a real weight to them.

"It is probably the biggest difference in their build-up and our build-up" said Smit earlier.

"The Boks also have a new coach, although Jacques has been an assistant (under Rassie Erasmus at the triumphant 2019 Rugby World Cup) ... He (Nienaber) would have liked to have gotten his hands dirty. So, a worry for the coach is always having a team undercooked. Also, the other thing is, there is probably going to have to be an over-reliance on the form of 2019 and that group from Japan, if there are just not enough games at that higher level.

"I suspect that between Jacques and Rassie they will have to arrange some kind of warm-up games. We (the Class of 2009) had a year-and-a-half of Test matches to get into a groove, understand (then coach Peter de Villiers') way and kick on from 2007.

"These guys have skipped a year," he continued, "which I think is great for the body, and at least they will be refreshed. But from a systems point of view and a battle-hardened point of view, that is going to be a big challenge for our boys."

As revealed on Thursday, long-time supporter of the Boks, Castle Lager, will step in as the series sponsor, blessing the Tests, to be played at FNB Stadium, Cape Town Stadium and Emirates Airline Park, as the Castle Lions Series.

The tour will start on July 3 against the Stormers, while the sold out Tests will commence from July 24.


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