Oliver Keohane reflects on just how special a British & Irish Lions tour is, in the context of the time period between visits.
I was nine years old when the Springboks last hosted the British & Irish Lions. I was in my third year of actually appreciating rugby, and the Springboks as a team, with the 2007 World Cup being my earliest memories of being locked in on the television screen.
I’m 21 years old this year and the Lions in three months time will be coming down to South Africa to try and flip the fortunes of their 2009 visit, when Morne Steyn broke the hearts of rugby fans across the United Kingdom and reinforced to nine year old me why he was my favourite player.
Think of every brilliant Springbok rugby player that has played, been capped and retired since I was nine. Think of the coaches who have come and gone, think of the three Rugby World Cups, the World Cup win, the many Super Rugbys, the Sevens tournaments. When one reflects on the time period between tours, and what has happened in rugby and the world in those 12 years, one is able to contextualise just how special a British & Irish Lions tour is.
Three players remain from the 2009 Springbok side that soared to victory off the back of Morne Steyn’s boot. Steyn himself, Ruan Pienaar and then Francois Steyn, who was in his third year of what would become a long and unorthodox rugby career. Both Steyns have played in France for Racing Metro, all three players have played all over the world and all three have returned in 2021 to their homes. Morne Steyn has been spectacular back at the Bulls in Pretoria, and Frans Steyn has returned to Bloemfontein to take on the challenge of a final Springbok hurrah by joining the Cheetahs. Ruan Pienaar, after years as one of Europe’s best has also returned to the Cheetahs. Morne Steyn, as mentioned, was my favourite player in 2009 and 2010, and I have always considered Frans Steyn one of the best in the world. Ruan Pienaar will go down as one of the most versatile, understated and underrated Springboks to have ever worn the jersey. To see the three of them play a part in another British & Irish Lions series would be a special rugby feat, but a special moment for me too.
12 years since South Africa celebrated a team that All Black legend Richie McCaw described as the greatest side he has played against (the 2009 Springboks), there are new faces, both young and seasoned, who promise to deliver the same under Jacques Nienaber and Rassie Erasmus that their predecessors did for Pieter De Villiers.
I get goosebumps thinking of the 2009 series win, of Steyn’s kick and Jacques Fourie’s try, of the legendary individuals that made up that Springbok team. Equally I get goosebumps knowing that the men who marched to World Cup victory in 2019 are capable of the same, and that the Springbok squad that has been building for the last few years will one day be spoken of in the same glorious breath as the old guard of South African rugby.
(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)