Lions in SA

Boks: Lions have a future

2009-07-04 21:28
John Smit (File)

Johannesburg - The British and Irish Lions must have a place in the modern-day professional era, Springbok captain John Smit said on Saturday after overseeing his side's 2-1 series win over the touring side.

The reigning world champions had sewn up the series by winning the first two Tests, albeit with just eight points separating the two teams, but the Lions hit back to claim the third Test 28-9 and avoid the ignominy of a first-ever whitewash at Springbok hands.

Importantly, it was also the Lions' first Test triumph since Brisbane in 2001, having suffered a 3-0 drubbing in New Zealand four years ago.

Rugby union as a sport has changed massively as a sport since going professional in 1996, and the future of the Lions has constantly been raised given the demands of carrying out such tours.

Bringing together, injury permitting, the cream of the four home nations of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and taking in a 10-match off-season tour is a big ask in anyone's books, but Smit was adamant that the Lions should remain a feature on the sport's landscape.

"Without a doubt," Smit said when asked whether the Lions were still relevant.

"It was an amazing experience from start to finish, from the day they arrived.

"It is still one of the most prized things that rugby has to offer.

"The Lions supporters are just amazing and appreciative of both teams running around," he said of the estimated 30 000 British and Irish fans who travelled to South Africa and gave a massive boost to the local economy.

"A series like this is based around the toughness of the games, the competitiveness of the series, how close it was at the end of the day.

"If anything should be kept, the Lions should be kept."

Lions forwards coach Warren Gatland said the Lions tour, which comes around every four years and two years before the next 2011 World Cup in New Zealand, was a showcase for players who could do nothing but benefit from such an experience.

"It's a huge amount at stake for these guys," the Kiwi-born coach of Wales said. "There's a World Cup in a couple of years.

"A lot of players have taken a lot of confidence out of what they've learnt and a bit of self-belief and that's important for players going back to their home nations."

He admitted that some of the teething problems that had hampered the Lions "wouldn't be there if you had continuity over a long period, and on some occasions we were caught because we didn't have that".

"But there's lessons individuals will learn and be able to take back to their clubs and own countries.

"From a Welsh point of view, the players on this tour will have taken a massive amount out of it in terms of Welsh players going forward, and I'm sure that would be the same for the English, Irish and the few Scottish players as well.

"It's all about players learning to play at the highest level and what it takes to win Test match rugby: being able to take the experience in terms of the level of intensity that needs to be applied at the very highest level."

Lions head coach Ian McGeechan, on his fifth trip as a coach and his seventh tour in total as he also toured South Africa in 1974 (four Tests) and New Zealand in 1977 (four Tests) as a player, again spoke of an almost-mythical feel to playing for the Lions.

"Maybe it is something to do with the Lions jersey. You do things sometimes you have never been asked to do in any other context," he said when quizzed of some startling performances in Saturday's victory.

"Players that buy into that often find something."


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