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The British & Irish Lions are coming, just don’t mention the effing grass

It would seem that the grass suffers when the Springboks and the British & Irish Lions meet, but with their long-standing rivalry it only makes sense that they are only focused on complete domination and victory over the other, writes Simnikiwe Xabanisa
Thu, Nov 05, 2020

Phil Vickery and Andrew Sheridan of the Lions tackle Tendai Mtawarira of South Africa during The British and Irish Lions Tour in 2009. PHOTO: Lee Warren/Gallo Images

Years ago, back in the ‘70s when players said what they liked and invariably meant it, a British and Irish Lion and a Springbok bumped into each other while doing a pre-game walk on the turf at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria.

Noticing that the Highveld pitch was a little shorn of the green stuff, the Lions player – overcome by the need for a spot of small talk – made the blindingly obvious remark that it didn’t have much grass, to which the Springbok replied: “It’s a good thing we didn’t come here to f*cking graze, isn’t it?”

The enduring history of the Springboks and the British & Irish Lions, a clash which has evolved to take place every 12 years, is as feral as it is written in the blood red of the visitors’ jersey.

From the infamous “99 Call” (the Lions’ code in 1974 for every player on the field to drop whatever he was doing and deck the nearest opponent), to calling the redoubtable former Springbok captain John Smit a fat c*nt in behind-the-scenes footage of their commissioned DVD documentary 11 years ago, it’s a series which tends to have more feeling than one would expect.

While the Lions like to point out that their team is made up of the unlikely mix of English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish players, the Boks make no such distinction, lumping the lot with the colonialist Poms and the sins they committed while roaming these parts all those years ago.

The primitive need to take lumps out of each other on the field may be alive and well when the two sides front up against each other next July (incidentally, the record post-isolation is one test series win apiece from 1997 and 2009), but a lot has evolved off it.

For starters, SA Rugby and the British and Irish Lions Company have recruited a UK-based sponsorship agency CSM Sports and Entertainment to jointly manage the sponsorship rights for the tour.

The point is to sell the tour as a separate entity from existing deals with commercial partners, which is code for the two parties doing their own version of printing their own money, with a joint-documentary mooted after the three-match series is concluded (there’s one way of not body shaming anyone from either side).

Those only thinking of attending any of the eight matches (three against the Springboks and five against domestic sides) must perish the thought because the ticketing ballot already closed in mid-September.

For clerical purposes, tickets went for as little as the cost of a pint, as one English newspaper described R100, in the games against local teams to as much as R3,000 in the real thing against the Springboks.

As critical as the cash injection will be for SA Rugby post-Covid, the country in general could use the boost, what with the rand’s self-esteem having plummeted with each day we’ve spent in lockdown. The number crunchers have not yet convened for their habitual pre-British & Irish Lions tour round of estimates, but the good news there is the last time around the cash injection was R1 billion.

This was thanks to the 50,000 British red-jersey clad souls who descended upon South Africa and basically held the country’s stadia and bars hostage. To gain a sense of the Lions fans, think of the travelling circus that is the English cricket team’s Barmy Army, but quadruple everything, including the loudness and the ability to tolerate inhumane amounts of alcohol.

And no, none of them will be here to effing graze...

British & Irish Lions Schedule:

  • 3 July: British & Irish Lions v DHL Stormers – Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town
  • 7 July: British & Irish Lions v SA ‘Invitational’ – Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
  • 10 July: British & Irish Lions v Cell C Sharks – Jonsson Kings Park, Durban
  • 14 July: British & Irish Lions v South Africa ‘A’ – Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
  • 17 July: British & Irish Lions v Vodacom Bulls – Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
  • 24 July (first Test): Springboks v British & Irish Lions – FNB Stadium, Johannesburg
  • 31 July (second Test): Springboks v British & Irish Lions – Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town
  • 7 August (third Test): Springboks v British & Irish Lions – Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg