Springbok assistant coach Mzwandile Stick says facing the British & Irish Lions was one of the best experiences of his career and he cannot wait for next year’s tour to begin.
The last time the Lions toured South Africa in 2009, Stick – who at the time was captaining the Blitzboks to a World Sevens Series title – had the privilege of facing the tourists in their match against the Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth.
The Kings side was coached by current Worcester Warriors director of rugby Alan Solomons and was a largely invitational team, with a bulk of players from overseas clubs, the Vodacom Bulls and a few from the Eastern Cape.
Stick’s Blitzbok teammate, Mpho Mbiyozo, would score the Kings’ only try as the Lions went on to claim a hard-fought 20-8 victory. Stick came on to the field in the second half, but says the memories of that match are still fresh in his mind.
‘It was 11 years ago, but I remember everything from that game,’ Stick said. ‘Many players don’t get the opportunity [of playing against the Lions], but for me, even after retiring, it always brought a smile to my face.
‘We were facing the best players from Europe. Ronan O’Gara kicked 10 points, Ugo Monye scored their only try, and there were many other big names, too. To share the field with all those players created memories that will last a lifetime, and I’m really grateful for that opportunity.
‘At that time, I was still playing for the Blitzboks, but I received a call from Mr Solomons and he asked me to play that game. Myself and Mpho Mbiyozo, who was with me at the Springbok Sevens team, just could not say no to this opportunity.
‘There was one thing that made it very special to me – to play in front of our supporters in Port Elizabeth. It’s the place that made me who I am, and it’s very close to my heart.
‘We had the likes of De Wet Barry, a great Springbok, Solly Tyibilika and Francois Hougaard – a lot of great players, and for me, as a youngster, it was very special to rub shoulders with these guys. Then, looking at the venue, it was going to be the first sports match at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, that was built for the 2010 Soccer World Cup. We were really excited to be part of that history.’
Now working under Jacques Nienaber as the Springboks’ assistant coach, Stick says the Lions will have vengeance on their minds after the Springboks’ victories over Wales and England during last year’s World Cup win.
‘The World Cup final against England was very tough and we had to be at our very best – I think facing the Lions will be three times as tough. Unlike at a World Cup, where you do have easier weeks, there will be no opportunities to take things easy when preparing for the Lions – every training session, every gym session will have to count.
‘We are the current RWC champions – we beat England in the final and Wales in the semi-final, so they are going to come hard for us. It will be like revenge.
‘We’re certainly not expecting anything light. The northern-hemisphere sides are very strong at the moment – all of those teams are very tough, and we’ll make sure that we’re ready for that challenge.’
Photo: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images