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Two Sides: the tour that almost never was

The first episode of the new three-part docuseries, Two Sides, which deals with the 2021 British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa, aired on DSTV on 15 May. I have to be honest, I was a little apprehensive about watching it. Not because I didn’t think it would be excellent – brought to us by the same people who made Chasing the Sun (the greatest piece of television ever created, obviously), T+W, along with Whisper TV, who make a lot of really great content for World Rugby and others, I knew it would be exceptional. But because let’s face it, that tour was a bittersweet one. Was I ready to relive it all?

To rewind a little bit, excitement for the B&I Lions tour was at a fever pitch after the Springboks won the World Cup, and the thought of securing tickets to the next biggest thing in the rugby world was thrilling. Secure those tickets we did, but of course we never got to use them because COVID struck, and changed everything about the tour. Even though fans weren’t allowed into the stadium, there was still so much anticipation around the tour – an opportunity to finally watch our Springboks after their 2019 victory, even if it would only be on TV. And make no mistake, it was still wonderful to see them play, both during the warm up game against Georgia, and during the tour itself. But there was also a lot of toxicity surrounding the tour. There were parts of it that just felt…awful. So, there was a weird tension between loving seeing the team playing and hating all the awful things that were being written about them in the media and on social media. I take that stuff way too personally, I know, but it is what it is, and after that tour, I have been left with a lingering dislike of the constituent teams and their fans…so much so that I can’t even get fully on board with the URC.

Fortunately, Two Sides actually may just be what I need to cure me of my bizarre lingering PTSD. Maybe. It also may be too soon to tell. The first episode was, as expected, excellent. I don’t want to give too much away – although we all know exactly what happened during the tour itself, the series offers a great deal of additional insight through all the interviews and behind the scenes footage, and I don’t want to spoil any of that for those who still need to watch it, which you definitely should. Much like Chasing the Sun, the production companies had unparalleled access to the teams, and nobody pulls any punches in the way they speak about what’s happening (put that parental control on if you’re offended by a few f bombs…).

In the first episode, we see just how difficult it is for an entity like the Lions to form a cohesive team from four different national sides. Their first training sessions are in direct contrast to the joyous reunion of the Springboks, who by that stage had not played together for almost two years. At the same time, of course, the Boks had lost a huge amount of conditioning. That in itself would have posed a challenge to any side. But one of the key takeaways of this first episode is just how challenging actually staging the series was. I think we all knew that, but we didn’t really KNOW. COVID-19, both in terms of restrictions and actual infections in the teams, and the riots that happened just as the series was getting underway could so easily have ended the whole thing, which also would have essentially been a death knell for the professional sport in South Africa, as they simply couldn’t afford to take the financial hit. We gain a new appreciation for just how desperately hard the teams, coaches, and administrators worked to keep this tour from being called off, while at the same time struggling to cope with the physical and mental challenges they were dealing with as individuals. It really was an almost impossible situation.

Episode one deals with the build up to the tour and closes with the game against the South Africa A side, which also provides a lovely opportunity to gain some more insight into Lukhanyo Am’s story, as he captained that side. We also get to hear from Lions player, Josh Adams, who withdrew from that game at the last minute as his partner was giving birth. And these are the humanising stories we need, and what makes a docuseries like this so important. Like I said, it may be too soon to tell – we still have to get into the really difficult stuff in the next two episodes – but this may be just what we need to finally let go of all the negativity that surrounded this series, and just remember the bigger picture – our shared love of the game, and determination to see it thrive, no matter the odds.

Two Sides is airing every Sunday from 15-29 May 2022 at 18:00 on MNet (101) at 18:00 and SuperSport Grandstand and SuperSport Rugby at 19:00 (201 and 211). It is also available on Catch Up.

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