Former Springbok captain Jean de Villiers says running out to a ‘sea of red’ motivated the team during the 2009 British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa.
De Villiers was speaking to Rugby World magazine about the Lions’ previous tour to South Africa 12 years ago, as the invitational side is set to return next year.
The Springboks claimed a thrilling 2-1 series victory over the Lions after taking an unassailable 2-0 lead with wins in Durban and Pretoria.
However, the hosts got a rude awakening in the opening Test at Kings Park, where they were left surprised after running out to a crowd dominated by Lions fans.
‘Playing a home game in South Africa is an unbelievable experience,’ De Villiers explained. ‘You do take a lot of energy from what is a unique home crowd. That said, I got a shock when I ran out of the tunnel and saw a sea of red in the stands.
‘There we were, expecting home-ground advantage in one of the biggest games of our lives. The travelling support was so significant, however, that it effectively cancelled out the home support. But we took that as part of the challenge. It motivated us in that we thought, “Right, we’re going to show these Lions fans how a Bok team performs at home.”‘
The Springboks were able to beat the Lions 26-21 in Durban thanks to a dominant performance from their pack.
De Villiers explained that it was the team’s experience – with most of the players who won the 2007 World Cup retained in 2009 – that played a crucial role in the second Test in Pretoria.
‘Jaque Fourie replaced me in the second half after I left the field with a shoulder injury,’ De Villiers said. ‘He ended up scoring an amazing try in the corner that brought us back into the game. It’s funny how things work out. I don’t know whether I would have been quick enough to score that try.
‘We were tested a great deal over those first two games, but we had a core of veterans who had played at the 2007 World Cup and who understood what it took to perform under intense pressure. That was the difference on the day in Pretoria.’
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