Former Springbok skipper Francois Pienaar says he doesn’t have any regrets about missing the iconic 1997 British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa.
A move to British club Saracens towards the end of 1996 meant that Pienaar, who lifted South Africa’s first-ever William Webb Ellis Cup a year earlier, played no part in Carel du Plessis’ Springbok team that eventually lost the series against the Lions.
Speaking on the most recent SA Rugby Podcast, Pienaar dismissed any form of regret he might have had on missing out on the unique opportunity of facing a Lions team.
‘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. 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,’ said the former flank.
The 53-year-old admitted that it took him some time to adapt to life in the northern hemisphere as he was one of the first South African players to agree a deal abroad.
‘So, when the Lions came to South Africa in 1997, I brought my friends from England with me to come and watch,’ he added, saying he watched the series almost a visitor or travelling Lions fan.
‘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.’
Pienaar, who only wore the green and gold on 29 occasions between 1993 and 1996, believes a Lions tour remains the ultimate rugby tour in the world and that next year’s edition in South Africa is poised to be one of the biggest ones ever.
‘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,’ Pienaar added.
On Sunday, it was reported that the 2021 tour is still expected to go ahead as originally planned, despite schedule disruptions caused by the current Covid-19 pandemic.
Full British & Irish Lions’ 2021 fixtures:
3 July: vs Stormers, Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town
7 July: vs SA Invitational, Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
10 July: vs Sharks, Kings Park, Durban
14 July: vs South Africa A, Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
17 July: vs Bulls, Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
24 July: vs Springboks (1st Test), FNB Stadium, Johannesburg
31 July: vs Springboks (2nd Test), Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town
7 August: vs Springboks (3rd Test), Ellis Park, Johannesburg