It’s fair to say Brian O’Driscoll has had the full Lions experience, having toured Australia in 2001 and 2013, New Zealand in 2005 and South Africa in 2009. What better player from the modern game to share with us some of his thoughts on next summer’s Tour and what being a Lion means to him?
"What I really love about being a Lion is when an English supporter or Welsh supporter or Scottish supporter comes up to you and they say, ‘you know were a real pain in the neck when we played against you, but boy did we love supporting you as a Lion’. It’s such a unique thing having four countries follow you and support you and it’s hard to get your head around initially. “You expect the partisan of the Irish to support and follow you but then for the seven week period when you have English, Welsh and Scottish fans roaring for you in the stands, patting you on the back in the street and telling you how much they’re looking forward to it, there is a real sense that it’s ‘all of us together’. Those moments really do last a lifetime. Lots of laughs, lots of great friendships and lots of great memories - just really great times. When I look back on my rugby career I do think of the Lions as some of my fondest memories.”
There’s little need to explain how much the Lions means to players and fans alike from Great Britain and Ireland, but Brian emphasises that it represents immense importance to the southern hemisphere sides that host the Tour as well,
“I think the best way to frame how important it is for the host countries and the host players playing against the Lions is the fact that players like Nathan Sharp, who played over 100 Test matches for Australia, never got a chance to play against the Lions. Because it’s every 12 years it’s a such a big deal to any player. The hosts are always in the dressing room trying to swap jerseys just to get that coveted Lions jersey.”
You can be certain it will mean everything to the Springboks when they line up against the Lions. 2009 was certainly a battle we’ll never forget: the pure ferocity and ultimate heartache of that second Test will go down in history and many will agree with Brian that when The Lions come to South Africa it really is an occasion like no other,
“I definitely think South Africa as a nation feels the Lions Tour the most. I feel as though they get the most from it and the impact it has on the community aspect is massive. The Lions Tour in South Africa is rooted in history: because of ‘74, because of ‘97, they know they have a battle on their hands, and I think they relish it as much as we do. As a player, the South Africa Tour was probably the best one and probably as a supporter too.”
You heard it from BOD, South Africa is an epic place to play and watch rugby. When 2021 arrives the Lions Tour will be an unmissable chance to see a spectacle that will captivate the rugby world and produce some unforgettable moments to add to the Lions rich legacy.