It was 12 years ago that the Springboks defeated the British & Irish Lions in the 2nd test at Loftus to win the series. South African’s fondly remember Jacques Fourie bulldozing his way over for the try and Morne Steyn slotting the winning kick. 12 years later and it all comes down to the 3rd test, it hasn’t been the smoothest of tours, but one thing is certain, the team that wins on Saturday will set the narrative for the next 12 years.
With the current pandemic, hosting the British & Irish Lions tour in South Africa was always going to be a tough task. The Springboks hadn’t played test rugby in 20 months, the fans weren’t travelling with the sides and the strength of the bio-bubbles was always going to be a challenge. The Lions arrival in SA also coincided with the 3rd wave and prompted a move down to Cape Town.
The Springboks preparations were thrown off kilter when a large number of squad members tested positive before their 2nd fixture against Georgia. The Lions lost skipper Alun Wyn Jones before the tour even got underway and had their own struggles with an in camp outbreak. The game against the Blue Bulls was cancelled and the Sharks were called upon to front up twice in four days against the men from the North.
The SA “A” game was turned into a shadow test as the Boks searched for game time. Rassie Erasmus was promoted to water boy. Warren Gatland called out the referees for Faf De Klerk’s tackle which was followed 10 days later by a 62 minute video from Rassie Erasmus calling out the officials. Alun Wyn Jones completed a herculean comeback from his shoulder injury to face the Stormers and reclaim his captaincy ahead of the tests. Marcus Smith enjoyed a whirlwind ride as he in the matter of 3 weeks played a premiership final, made his England Debut and forced his way into a start against the Stormers.
When all is said and done, both teams will have a lot to complain about and blame and an equal measure of things that went their way and assisted them on their journey to the top. This is the nature of sport and the reason we all love the game. But only one team will have their story told for the next 12 years.
Was Rassie’s rant a moment of brilliance as he deflected the pressure from his side, or was Warren right to remain silent in adversity? Is Itoje or Etzebeth the true enforcer on the field? Is the Bok physicality all it’s cracked up to be? Are the Lions the slayers of the World Champions?
These are all questions that will be answered this weekend, and whether fans and punt-its agree or not, the winner will have their story told the way they want and direct it to be. It will be 2033 when the Lions next come to South Africa. Whilst most if not all the players involved now may not be here, except for maybe Frans Steyn. The Springboks and the British & Irish Lions can write their own story and leave a legacy to be built on in 12 years time.