JJ Harmse

Lions tour about friendship

2009-04-16 08:15
Sport24 columnist JJ Harmse (File)
JJ Harmse

A report in the daily newspapers on Thursday referred to the readiness of the Royal XV that will play the British and Irish Lions in the opening tour game of their tour to South Africa.

The management team of the regional side will be completed today when the team manager and physio will be confirmed and then they are ready to go.

The team will consist of players from the central and northern regions of the country.

The Leopards, as hosts, will probably supply most of the players, while Griquas will also contribute significantly. The Pumas, Griffons and Falcons are the other unions involved and should provide the odd player.

Leopards coach, Chaka Willemse, has been appointed as coach and he will be assisted by Dawie Theron, Oersond Gorgonzola and Jimmy Stonehouse, who coach Griquas, Griffons and the Pumas respectively.

Gorgonzola coached Eastern Province till last year and must now see his move north as a career saving one.

Compilation of the team

Down on the East Coast, the process of their team playing the Lions on June 16 seems to be way off.

There is still disagreement between EP president, Cheeky Watson, and SA Rugby on the compilation of the team and there is no clear cut indication that Rassie Erasmus will actually coach the side.

Border, as the other partner in the proposed Southern Kings franchise have just managed to call a truce in what can only be described as petty, but serious rugby politics. If any rugby administrator has to leave office because of a threat to his life, it becomes a very serious issue indeed.

What has become clear in all of this is that there is a lesson for rugby to learn here.

How is it possible for five unions to work together so smoothly and get their house in order as expected, while two others cannot get their act together? It is called goodwill and working for the cause of rugby.

There is no doubt in my mind that the whole Youth Day issue and the launching of the Southern Kings has resulted in the Eastern Cape administrators losing sight of the most important thing that will happen on that day – a match against the touring Lions.

Honour and a privilege

As most of the Springboks will tell you, the honour and privilege of playing against this touring side is what has been driving them this season. The prospect of facing the Lions has made trips to the gym palatable and forced the extra sprint from weary legs.

Can you imagine how a first division player must feel about the prospect then? The Springboks have played many of their opponents before, albeit in different jerseys, but for a player from the Griffons it must be a dream to play against, say Brian O’Driscoll or Shane Williams.

I remember Baksteen Nell telling me about his appearance against the Lions in 1997. He was then starting out his provincial career and as a student, drove with a couple of his mates from Bloemfontein to Welkom for training and back the same night for many months a year.

As a young Griffons prop, he played against the British Lions pack. That inspired him in such a way that he decided to become a professional player, something that was not as lucrative back then as it is now.

He made it all the way, playing Super 12 rugby for the Sharks and the Lions and when an ankle injury forced him out of the game, he could retire with a smile on his face.

How much will playing the Lions mean, for say 20-year-old fullback Cecil Afrika at the Griffons? Afrika is already established as one of the brightest young stars in the country and boasting representative caps with the SA Under-20 and Emerging Boks teams.

Or on the other side of the scale, to Nico Luus at the Falcons? If ever there was an honest toiler in the engine room of provincial rugby, Luus is your man. He has given rugby so much; it would be great to see the ‘old’ man fronting up to Paul O’Connell and welcoming him back to South Africa!

Special moment

The point I am trying to make, I suppose, is that some people in the game need to understand that there is more to this Lions tour than how much money can be made.

This tour is first and foremost about the players. Ten matches will be played where the focus should be on the 44 guys involved. It will be those guys who will enjoy that special moment, who will have a lasting memory and hopefully, will establish new and lasting friendships.

There will be more than enough at the end of the day to feed the spectator, the media and the administrator. Let’s not spoil it by being too greedy.

Read JJ every Sunday in Rapport

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