Former Springbok captain John Smit has reflected on the 2009 British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa, and revealed how the series brought about unique ‘pressure’.
Smit was in conversation with British & Irish Lions chairman Jason Leonard in a webinar hosted by the SA Rugby Legends Association as part of the buildup to next year’s Lions tour of South Africa.
‘The World Cup comes around every four years and if you’re lucky, you might play in one, maybe two, some three, four, five, but some of the greatest Springboks that have ever lived never got an opportunity to play against the Lions,’ said Smit.
‘That responsibility and hype added to what I found an extreme pressure.’
Although Smit had led the Springboks to the 2007 World Cup, he admitted there was plenty riding on the outcome of the Lions series.
‘We were in a funny situation in 2009 because we were a World Cup-winning team that was two years older and a lot of the guys had scattered around a bit and signed overseas contracts.
‘We’d all come together under Peter de Villiers and the motivation to stay together was because we had an opportunity to fix the 1997 result.
‘I remember being asked at a press conference the week before the first Test in Durban, “How does this [the hype] feel compared to the World Cup final?” I played it down from an answer point of view, but in reality, I don’t think I’d ever been that nervous for a Test.
‘A, because I was playing tighthead and we were told we’re going to be put under pressure from a scrum point of view and, B, if we didn’t come through with the goods, it would be 24 years [of agony].
‘It’s quite a heavy feeling. I’ve never experienced nerves like that.’