Smit: Lions tour is even more special

Former Springbok captain John Smit says the British & Irish Lions series has become even more special as one of the last traditional tours in modern rugby.

Smit, who led the Springboks to a series victory in the previous Lions tour of South Africa in 2009, was in conversation with former England and Lions prop Brian Moore as part of the Telegraph‘s Full Contact podcast.

During the interview, Smit was asked whether it is still special to play against the Lions, given how frequently Test matches have been played in rugby’s professional era.

‘I think it has become more special,’ Smit answered. ‘It is the last of the traditional ways of rugby. For us, it’s every 12 years; there is something extremely special about being able to get your timing right, get your injuries right. It’s much harder to play against the Lions than it is to make a World Cup.’

The Springboks are going into this year’s series having not played together since the 2019 World Cup final due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The team will, however, play two Test matches against Georgia as warm-ups before they take on the Lions in late July.

Smit said that the Springboks haven’t played in two years means that nobody really knows what to expect in this year’s series.

‘The appetite has been phenomenal since before we won the World Cup, two years ago. What to expect? No one has a clue. With South Africans, as you well know, common sense is probably the least of our qualities, so everyone expects it to be a resounding success.

‘We’ve got a couple of challenges: our team hasn’t played in two years, and it’ll probably be the same squad that played two years ago. But the excitement here is phenomenal. But what a time to be a pundit – you can’t be wrong because no one’s got a clue what exactly is going to happen.’

While SA Rugby has lobbied for a small percentage of fans to be allowed to return to the stadiums during the tour, it is likely that games will be played behind closed doors, something Smit says could make set pieces more challenging.

‘It’s difficult. I’ve been to a few games as a pundit and it’s eerie, it’s horrible. I could think of nothing worse than playing in front of absolutely nothing,’ Smit said.

‘And the other thing that would worry me, purely selfishly as a hooker, someone that’s in charge of lineouts, is that the opposition hear every single thing you say. So, you have to think about all your calls, about how you don’t allow them to decode your lineout format – it’s just so many more things for these players to be aware of than in our time.’


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