2021 Lions Tour to South Africa
‘Payback versus validation’, these will be the contrasting themes at play for the 2021 British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa.
The reigning world champions will be out to prove that their 2019 Rugby World Cup win was no fluke. The Boks will be eager to emulate their counterparts of 2009, who were not only World Champs at the time, but who were also able to win the series against the Lions 2-1.
The Lions on the other hand will be looking to get back to winning ways versus a South African opposition. While their previous 2 tours to Australia and New Zealand ended with a series win (against Australia) and a draw (against the All Blacks who were World Champs at the time), their last foray to South Africa in 2009 was less successful. The last series victory by the Lions against the Springboks came in 1997. Therefore, the tourists will be keen to add 2021 to the winners list.
The fact that Wales and England are the beaten semi-finalists and finalists of the 2019 World Cup adds more spice. Many of the home nation players participated in these games. Therefore, winning the series would help ease some of the pain from those respective losses against the Boks.
The Power of Four
The British & Irish Lions, a United Kingdom rugby union touring team, consist of only the best players from the ‘home nations’ of Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales. The Lions, as they are affectionally known, tour every 4 years. These tours alternate between the Southern hemisphere powerhouses of South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
How did the Lions Tour start?
The inaugural Lions tour was in 1888 and consisted of a visit to Australia and New Zealand. Instead of test matches a series of games were conducted between provincial and club teams.
South Africa had to wait until 1891 for the first Lions tour to grace her shores. 20 matches were played during the tour. These included 3 tests, all of which were won by the visitors. Since then the Lions had limited success against South Africa by winning only 4 series of the 13 contested (the last of which was in 1997).
The most recent tour to South Africa was in 2009, coached by Ian McGeechan and captained by Paul O’Connel from Ireland. The Bokke won the first 2 tests, which effectively wrapped up the series. In the dead rubber, the Lions saved some pride by winning convincingly.
Let the greatest rugby tour of all commence….
The 2021 edition will see 5 warm up games act as the curtain-raiser for the 3 tests. Key South African cities will all play host to a game of some sorts and hence exposing a diverse set of fans to the experience of a Lions tour (many for the first time).
The Lions will start their campaign on July the 3rd against the Stormers in Cape Town. The tour will culminate with the final test against the Springboks in Johannesburg on August the 7th.
Potential South Africa Squad
While team selection is still a bit of a way off, there are some certainties on both sides. Starting with South Africa, the 2019 World Player of the year Pieter Steph Du Toit will be the bedrock of the team. Undisputedly the best player in 2019, the pressure will be on Du Toit to replicate that form in 2021. The inspirational Siya Kolisi will surely remain captain. Together with stalwarts Duane Vermeulen, Hanre Pollard and Willie Le Roux the backbone of the team should be settled. Should the prodigious Francois Steyn be selected, he would be the only survivor of the victorious Springbok squad of 2009. It would take a foolish man to bet against his inclusion.
The majority of the starting 15 of the 2019 World Cup final will still be around and available for selection come 2021- this will be a good problem for new coach Jacques Nienaber, who will be hoping to replicate Rassie Erasmus’s success with the Boks.
How could the Lions line up?
The Lions camp will have a few more challenges, as the team is formed by combining the cream of the crop from the home nations. Coach Warren Gatland is a seasoned campaigner, who was head coach of the previous 2 successful tours. He will therefore have an impartial view, looking to select only the best for the tour (irrespective of national allegiances).
Going on current form alone the squad will most likely be dominated by the English and Welsh with the 3 front runners for captain coming from these nations too.
As it stands the captaincy will go to either Maro Itoje or Owen Farrell of England, or to the most capped Lions player currently still in the mix, Alun-Wyn Jones of Wales. Whoever is selected will need to be a given starter. This fact alone may count against Jones who will be 35 years of age come the Lions tour. It is believed that Farrell may be more valuable an asset without the added pressure of the captaincy. This leaves Maro Itoje as the current favourite to take the mantle. A workhorse of note who leads from the front, Itoje would fit the mould of a Martin Johnson, should the leadership responsibilities be bestowed upon him.
In the mix for the Lions tour, players like CJ Stander of Ireland, Manu Tuilagi of England and Gareth Davies of Wales are leading the charge in their respective positions. Warren Gatland will be wanting to face up to the physicality of the Springboks, and so his match day 22 will most likely feature a lot of grunt.
Let’s get ready for a spectacular Lions Tour!
A Lions tour always brings a level of excitement that cannot be matched. The expectation and pressure on the best players from the home nations is immense. Therefore, a win in South Africa in 2021 will go a long way for Northern Hemisphere rugby.
Conversely, the resurrection of South African rugby over the past 2 years has been nothing short of a miracle. The Springboks will be itching to cement their place as undisputed kings of world rugby in 2021. Just being involved in a Lions tour is a career highlight for many players. So, you can bet all involved will leave everything out on the field for those 80 minutes.
In conclusion, the 2021 tour is perfectly poised to establish who is the truly dominant force in world rugby. The question is who will it be?