Calling on his own experience of facing the British & Irish Lions as a player in 2009, Springbok assistant coach Mzwandile Stick has opened up on the tourists’ threat ahead of the Test series later this month. DYLAN JACK reports.
The Springboks are set to return to action for the first time in 18 months when they face Georgia in Pretoria on Friday.
The first of a two-Test series against the European nation will serve as a final warm-up for the three Tests against the British & Irish Lions, who start their 2021 tour against the South African Lions in Johannesburg on Saturday.
It has been a long wait for the 2019 World Cup winners to return to action and whether the Springboks can hit the ground running against Georgia after their period of Test isolation remains to be seen.
However, both Stick and Springbok captain Siya Kolisi seemed in high spirits when speaking on the eve of the Georgia Test on Thursday.
Stick, who had the privilege of facing the British & Irish Lions in his days as a speedy wing with the Southern Kings in 2009, was asked whether the Springboks had identified any particular threats from the Lions’ win over Japan this past weekend.
Drawing on his own experience, he said the Springboks are going to have to be at their best by the time the first Test rolls around on 14 July.
“For me, I played against them in one of the midweek games in 2009,” Stick recalled. “I will never forget that moment, playing against the like of [Ronan] O’Gara and Ugo Monye. Those are big names. You are going to be challenged against them, every second of the game.
“The funny story about me when I came on against them, I think it was the 53rd minute of the game. I was so excited to get involved in the game, I was on the blindside wing. Stupid Mzwandile Stick just wanted to get into the game. A smart guy like O’Gara, managed to put the kick over my head, because I was not in my position to defend.
“That shows the quality of players that you are going to be playing against. Any weaknesses you show, they will be able to capitalise on it. We are going to have to be at our best to win the series.”
Stick added that the uniqueness of the tour – it’s rare once-in-a-career opportunity – means that the Springboks are going to have to leave their 2019 World Cup triumph in the past if they are to make the most of it.
“You only play them once in 12 years, so if someone like Siya doesn’t get an opportunity to play against them this year, what are the chances that he is going to play against them at the age of 42? That shows the honour and privilege that comes with playing against them.
“Playing in the Word Cup was very special for us and with everything we have been through in the last 18 months, for us as Springbok family it’s about time that we start from scratch and start to build new memories.
“From what I have picked up in the camp, these players are really excited for this challenge. They understand that if they don’t make the most of this opportunity and create something special, most of them won’t get this opportunity again. If you look at our squad, a guy who stands a chance of playing them against is maybe Aphelele Fassi, if he looks after himself.
“It’s a massive challenge. You are talking about facing the top-four players in each position from the northern hemisphere. We are going to be challenged, but that’s what we are here for. That’s why it’s called a Test match. You are going to be challenged in every part of the game.
“That’s why I talk about stupid Mzwandile Stick, coming on to the field and trying to make the game all about him. You can’t afford to do that against the Lions. They will expose you.”
Photo: EPA/MARK R CRISTINO