Former Springbok scrumhalf Werner Swanepoel has shared his views on the British & Irish Lions tour and why it's so special for rugby players.
The Lions are scheduled to tour South Africa in 2021 and Swanepoel said they will provide a stern challenge for the world champion Springboks.
Swanepoel made his international debut off the bench against the 1997 Lions at Ellis Park, a game the Springboks won 35-16 although they had already surrendered the series after losing the first two Tests in Cape Town (25-16) and Durban (18-15).
"The British & Irish Lions series is the next big challenge for the World Cup-winning Springboks. I hold fond memories of the tour in 1997 for personal reasons because I earned my debut for the Springboks in the third Test at Ellis Park. I swapped jerseys with their reserve scrumhalf after coming on for Joost van der Westhuizen. I have the jersey hanging in my bar at home and when I’m an old man I can use it to wipe my tears from that series defeat!" Swanepoel told Sport24 in an exclusive interview.
Lions centre Jeremy Guscott was the hero of the tour by kicking the winning drop goal in the tourists' win in the second Test at Kings Park.
Swanepoel said Guscott had told him how prestigious playing for the Lions against the Springboks was.
"I spoke to Jeremy Guscott the other day and I said, as 'laaitie' in South Africa you always want to play for the Springboks and, for them, he said while they grow up always wanting to play for their country the cherry on the cake is getting picked for the British & Irish Lions. It's a true honour for the guys when they put on that red jersey as is the case with the green and gold."
Swanepoel said the Lions had a shrewd coach in Warren Gatland but felt the Springboks were well geared with Jacques Nienaber as head coach and Rassie Erasmus as director of rugby.
"The battle will commence next year and I can't wait to watch all the games... I see Warren Gatland, who will coach the team next year, has heaped praise on Rassie. Sometimes you get a very likeable coach who is not technical or a technical coach who is not likeable. Rassie put those two things together and the rest is history. He won the World Cup for South Africa, which is an amazing achievement...
"These days I think coaches and players are media savvy and the sweet talk will start. I'm really looking forward to the series and Rassie will be behind the scenes and take full control and responsibility. Him and the newly-appointed Springbok head coach Jacques Nienaber have worked together for ages and I think it will be a smooth transition.
"However, at the end of the day you can be as good a coach as you can be but you need to field a strong match-day 23. The British & Irish Lions are going to prove a tough team but with Jacques having been appointed the continuity will be there along with the self-same culture and structures, which I feel is very positive for South African rugby."
- Compiled by Sport24 staff