There may have been Springboks in the past who went into a series against the British and Irish Lions seeing it as a special event because of what their fathers had done for the host nation against the tourists.
For centre Jesse Kriel it is a different and even more unique experience than previous father-son combinations.
He’s not following in the footsteps of a family member who played for the same team that he is representing now, but rather he is following someone who played for the opposition.
The 27-year-old Maritzburg College old boy took to Twitter last December to disclose that his great-grandfather, John Hodgson, was a Lion on the tour to Australia and New Zealand in 1930.
A flanker who played his English club rugby for the Northumbrian side Northern, played two Tests on that tour — both against the All Blacks. He featured in the 6-3 win over New Zealand in Dunedin as well as the 15-10 loss in Auckland.
He made 15 appearances on his only tour for the Lions and scored nine points, which means that given that tries were worth three points in those days, he scored three tries. He also played seven times for England.
Kriel was pleased to announce late last year that his great-grandfather’s cap — he was Lion No. 265 — had been sent by the Lions to his family.
But it was when his name was announced in the 46-man Springbok group a few days ago, thus confirming that he will be part of a Lions series, that it all became extra special for Kriel.
“A Lions series is special anyway as it is such a rare event and I remember watching the 2009 series while still at school,” said Kriel during a break in the Bok training camp in Bloemfontein.
“I have strong memories of watching that tour, particularly the Jaque Fourie try [that brought the Boks back into the second Test that they were losing] and then the Morné Steyn penalty kick that won it. It is a big event because you usually only get to play a Lions series once in your playing career. But that my great-grandfather played for the Lions does make my selection to play in this series even more significant, not just for me but for my family as a whole.
“I was speaking to my brother [Dan, who plays for the Johannesburg-based Lions] about it the other day.
“We remember the stories we were told as youngsters about our great-grandfather’s experiences. Of course it was very different back then to how it is now.
“They had to get to Australia and New Zealand from the UK by ship and it took months to get there. So a lot of the experience was about the drinks and the fun they had on the boat.
“They’d have to write letters to their families as it is not like now when you have cell-phones and e-mail, and it is also not like now when I climb on a plane one day and then I’m home the next.
“Those are the little stories I remember and in remembering those stories it means a lot to me and my family ...”
Kriel’s great-grandfather did not tour South Africa with the Lions, but he did get to play once against the Springboks — for England at Twickenham in 1932. The Springbok centre said in a Sunday newspaper interview last year he was particularly proud of the fact that he was related to someone who had experience of playing against the Boks.
The former Bulls centre is now playing in Japan and had to answer the inevitable question about the different intensity of the rugby there, where the tempo is renowned for being quick but the physicality isn’t what you’d get in a country like South Africa. Kriel feels that perhaps that last aspect of the Japanese leagues is underestimated.
He was forced out of the 2019 World Cup after the opening game against New Zealand, but he disagrees with any conception that he has unfinished business.
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“I did get injured and it was disappointing to leave the World Cup early, but I did feel like I made a contribution to our win. I just want to contribute as much to the Springbok effort as a I can.”