As the British & Irish Lions tour ticket ballot officially opens, CRAIG LEWIS reflects on one of the most memorable individual performances from the 2009 series.
So much planning and preparation has gone into ensuring the Lions squad will be able to arrive on South African shores and, along with them, will come tens of thousands madly passionate fans.
It provides an experience like no other, and one that still resonates in my memory from 2009.
To take a trip down memory lane, that tour to South Africa boasted all the ingredients of a recipe dished up in any rugby lover’s dreams.
Yet, there is one other standout moment that still resonates above the rest, and it comes from an unlikely source: the scrum.
It was the opening match of a crucial Test series against the Lions in 2009, and it also turned out to be a contest that unequivocally announced the arrival of the one and only Beast Mtawarira.
Unfortunately, it was also the beginning of the end of the Test career of his opposite number, Phil Vickery, who found himself popped like a champagne cork almost every time he engaged in a scrum battle with Mtawarira.
At 23 years old, Beast was playing in just his 11th Test. He would go on to play 106 more internationals, culminating in a similarly destructive performance in last year’s World Cup final.
But, back in 2009, watching Mtawarira from the stands of Kings Park was a thing of beauty.
The Durban stadium was packed with a sea of red-shirted Lions supporters, and yet they were collectively silenced as Beast brutally manhandled Vickery until he was ultimately substituted early in the second half to end his suffering.
The one-sided domination also led to one of the all-time great quotes from Vickery a couple of weeks later, when he recalled how the opening Test had gone.
‘You know you have had a bad game when your mum, your missus and your sister all text you to say they still love you,’ Vickery quipped.
For Mtawarira, it was just the start of a long and illustrious Test career. But that individual effort in just his 11th Test will go down as one of his all-time great performances.
*Please be cautioned that if you are a South African resident or a resident outside of the United Kingdom and Europe, the only place to request tickets to any of the eight tour matches is through the ballot on the official site of https://tickets.lionstour2021.co.za/
If you are a South African resident in South Africa, no tickets purchased outside the official South African online site will be recognised. This also applies to residents in the United Kingdom and Europe, who have to apply on the official Lions Tour site www.lionsrugby.com