British & Irish Lions

Francois Pienaar recalls being 'Lions tourist' in 1997

Francois Pienaar and Hannes Strydom celebrate 1995 Rugby World Cup victory
Francois Pienaar and Hannes Strydom celebrate 1995 Rugby World Cup victory
PHILIP LITTLETON / AFP
  • Former Springbok captain Francois Pienaar says he has no regrets not playing in the 1997 series against the British & Irish Lions.
  • Pienaar gave up the chance to play in the Lions series when he moved to Saracens at the end of the 1996 season.
  • The 1995 World Cup winner recalls visiting the country as a tourist for the 1997 Lions tour.

Former Springbok captain Francois Pienaar says he has no regrets not playing in the 1997 series against the British & Irish Lions.

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Pienaar, who captained the Springboks to World Cup glory on home soil in 1995, played his final Test on 10 August 1996 when he was forced to leave the field with concussion against the All Blacks at Newlands.

He relocated to London later that year to play for English club Saracens - which meant he missed out on the Lions' first visit to South Africa since 1980.

In the latest SA Rugby podcast, Pienaar says he’s gotten over that disappointment.

"Why regret stuff? It's something I always debate but life moves on and you have to make the best of the hand you’ve been dealt," said Pienaar, who captained the Springboks in all 29 Tests he played.

Pienaar, now 53, said it was tough adapting to life at Saracens in the early days of the professional era.

"Leaving South Africa and arriving at Saracens, then still very amateur, weren't ideal - I almost came back. But I was appointed player/coach and we were fortunate to win a title that year, for the first time in 127 years.

"So, when the Lions came to South Africa in 1997, I brought my friends from England with me, to come and watch.

"We toured South Africa as Springbok fans with some of our English friends, including Saracens backer Nigel Wray and his whole family. The result wasn’t great, but we had a great time."

The Lions are slated tour South Africa next year and Pienaar said he would look to attend matches around the country.

"The Lions experience is just phenomenal - the camaraderie that brings together players who are used to fighting each other but then become one, they sing each other’s songs, enjoy the tour together... it is just special.

"And next year's tour is going to be fantastic. We’ve already discussed with friends to do something special, to again tour our country and follow the Lions as they face the Springboks - I'm looking forward to being a tourist again."

The Lions last toured South Africa in 2009 when the Springboks ran out 2-1 series victors.

British & Irish Lions' 2021 tour schedule:

3 July: v Stormers, Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town
7 July: v SA Invitational, Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
10 July: v Sharks, Kings Park, Durban
14 July: v South Africa 'A', Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
17 July: v Bulls, Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
24 July: v Springboks (1st Test), FNB Stadium, Johannesburg
31 July: v Springboks (2nd Test), Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town
7 August: v Springboks (3rd Test), Ellis Park, Johannesburg

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