• McGeechan: Lions series like three WC finals

    Ian McGeechan has likened the Springboks versus the British & Irish Lions three-Test series in South Africa to three successive World Cup finals.

    McGeechan’s playing and coaching career includes four Lions tours, having coached the men in red to a series win over the Springboks in 1997, being in South Africa as a player as part of the 1974 Lions tour and also returning to South Africa as the head coach in 2009.

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    McGeechan has known victory and defeat in South Africa against the Springboks, but mostly he knows what it means to tour South Africa and be a Lions player and coach in South Africa.

    ‘It is unique,’ McGeechan often tells the media. ‘South Africans get the Lions.’

    The South African public, judging by their reaction to Wednesday’s ticket sales ballot opening, would concur with McGeechan. More than 50,000 South African residents visited the official South African territory online site (www.lionstour.co.za) on Wednesday, taking the total number of visitors to more than 200,000 in the first few days of the ballot registration opening.

    The ballot, which runs its course at 23:59pm on Wednesday, 16 September, does not guarantee any applicant a ticket but is the fairest system to determine all the applications. Those who have applied will know before the end of September whether they have been successful in their ticket requests.

    ‘The demand for tickets, by way of the ballot applications, has been huge,’ said SA-based tour director Lourens Oberholzer. ‘Naturally there is huge interest in the three Test matches, but there has been an overwhelming number of applications for the non-Test matches, which is fantastic for the tour.’

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    Oberholzer, consistent with McGeechan’s comments, spoke of a South African nation immersed in the Lions’ visit.

    ‘We keep on talking about an eight-occasion rugby extravaganza and that is exactly what it is going to be,’ said Oberholzer. ‘The tour schedule, which starts in Cape Town and ends in Johannesburg, is ideal for anyone following each match of the tour, as it takes the fan up the coast from Cape Town, to Port Elizabeth and to Durban. Then it is the experience of South Africa’s north, the safaris, the national parks and the vibrancy of Gauteng for the match against the Bulls in Pretoria and the first Test against the Springboks in Soweto,’ said Oberholzer. ‘Then it is off to Cape Town for the second Test and back to what many consider the spiritual home of the Springboks and home to the historic 1995 Springboks’ World Cup final win [Emirates Airline Park] for the tour finale against the Boks in Johannesburg.

    ‘It is a dream schedule, in terms of travel and also for the Lions squad when it comes to the quality of opposition in the buildup to the Test series.’

    Oberholzer confirmed that the demand for the Test matches was always going to exceed the supply of tickets, but said what was most pleasing was how many South African residents were applying for tickets to watch the five non-Test matches against the Lions.

    These matches have been dubbed ‘midweek magic’ and ‘Super Saturday’ and includes three matches against the Stormers, Sharks and Vodacom Bulls, respectively.

    The Stormers, on 3 July 2021, will make history in playing the Lions for the first time as a region and it will also be the first international game of rugby at the Cape Town Stadium. The final tour match is the third Test against the Springboks in Johannesburg on 7 August.

    Oberholzer said the five non-Test matches gave South Africans a chance to experience a Lions match-day experience, which he likened to a rugby carnival.

    ‘The supply of tickets for the three Test matches can never match the obvious demand from South Africans and that is why the five non-Test matches have such relevance for lovers of the game. The Lions are unique in that we in South Africa only get to host them every 12 years. The three-Test series is going to be epic but we’ve seen how South Africans immerse themselves in big sporting occasions, like the 2010 Fifa Soccer World Cup. We are expecting the same response from South Africans, whenever and wherever the Lions play in July and the first week of August,’ he said.

    The Lions will complete their non-Test schedule against the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on 17th July. The Bulls are the last provincial team in South Africa to have beaten the Lions back in 1997. Bulls coach Jake White was also at the helm of the Australian franchise, the Brumbies, that beat the Lions in Australia in 2013.

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    Photo: Action Images/Ian Smith