Springbok assistant coach Mzwandile Stick says facing the British and Irish Lions is one of the highlights of his own playing career, and is relishing the return of the old foe to South African shores next year. Photo: BackpagePix
Springbok assistant coach Mzwandile Stick says facing the British and Irish Lions is one of the highlights of his own playing career, and is relishing the return of the old foe to South African shores next year. Photo: BackpagePix

Springbok assistant coach Stick relishing chance to draw swords with British and Irish Lions

By African News Agency Time of article published Aug 6, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG - Springbok assistant coach Mzwandile Stick says facing the British and Irish Lions is one of the highlights of his own playing career, and is relishing the return of the old foe to South African shores next year.

But it wasn’t your usual story of a player rising through the provincial ranks and getting selected to face the best of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales on their four-yearly tour of the Southern Hemisphere.

Back in May 2009, Stick was a fleet-footed 24-year-old playmaker who captained the Springbok Sevens team to their first World Rugby Sevens Series title after playing in five out of eight finals, and winning three tournaments.

A couple of months after lifting the trophy in Edinburgh, the Blitzbok playmaker found himself in a new team environment as part of the Southern Kings side that prepared to face the British & Irish Lions in their sixth match of the 2009 tour to South Africa.

The experienced Alan Solomons was appointed to coach the Kings, then an invitational side comprising players returning from overseas clubs, a couple of players from the Bulls (they didn’t play the Lions in 2009) and a bunch of local lads from the Eastern Cape.

“At that time, I was still playing for the Blitzboks, but I received a call from Mr Solomons and he asked me to play that game,” said Stick, who hails from New Brighton township in Port Elizabeth.

“Myself and Mpho Mbiyozo, who was with me at the Springbok Sevens team, just could not say no to this opportunity.

“There was one thing that made it very special to me – to play in front of our supporters in Port Elizabeth. It’s the place that made me who I am, and it’s very close to my heart.

“We had the likes of De Wet Barry, a great Springbok, Solly Tyibilika and Francois Hougaard – a lot of great players, and for me, as a youngster, it was very special to rub shoulders with these guys.

“Then, looking at the venue, it was going to be the first sports match at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, that was built for the 2010 Soccer World Cup. We were really excited to be part of that history.”

Mbiyozo, who also captained the Blitzboks in his sevens career, ended up scoring the Southern Kings’ only try in front of a crowd of 36,000 at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, where the British & Irish Lions won a tough tussle by 20-8.

Stick came off the bench early in the second half and was on the field when his great friend scored the locals’ try with a few minutes left on the clock.

“It was 11 years ago, but I remember everything from that game,” recalled Stick.

“Many players don’t get the opportunity (of playing against the Lions), but for me, even after retiring, it always brought a smile to my face.

“We were facing the best players from Europe. Ronan O’Gara kicked 10 points, Ugo Monye scored their only try, and there were many other big names too. To share the field with all those players created memories that will last a lifetime, and I’m really grateful for that opportunity.”

Stick said next year’s tour of the Lions would be very tough and that there might be thoughts of revenge from the northern hemisphere after the Springboks’ Rugby World Cup triumph last year.

“The Rugby World Cup final against England was very tough and we had to be at our very best – I think facing the Lions will be three times as tough,” he said.

“Unlike at a World Cup, where you do have easier weeks, there will be no opportunities to take things easy when preparing for the Lions – every training session, every gym session will have to count.

“We are the current Rugby World Cup champions – we beat England in the final and Wales in the semi-final, so they are going to come hard for us. It will be like revenge.

“We’re certainly not expecting anything light. The northern hemisphere sides are very strong at the moment – all of those teams are very tough, and we’ll make sure that we’re ready for that challenge.”

African News Agency (ANA)

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