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British Irish lions tour: Bryan Habana reflects on 2009 Lions series

Bryan Habana has singled out a particular play during the 2009 Test series between the Springboks and British & Irish Lions as one of the best moments in his career. Rugby fans can book British lions 2021 tickets on our website at exclusively discounted prices.

South Africa won the first two Tests and the Lions clinched the third match for a 2-1 series scoreline in favour of the hosts.

The Boks dominated the first game but had to rally late in the second match to mount a comeback having trailed by 11 points with 20 minutes left.

British Irish lions tour: Habana reflects on 2009 Lions series
British Irish lions tour: Habana reflects on 2009 Lions series

Habana and centre Jaque Fourie scored late tries, while Morne Steyn stepped up to slot the conversions and two penalties to clinch the win and with that the series.

Reflecting on that riveting Test at Loftus 12 years ago, the legendary Bok pinpoints Fourie’s stunning try as one of the best he has ever seen.

“What that game did give us was one of the best tries I’ve ever seen on a rugby field from Jaque Fourie,” Habana told former teammate Jean de Villiers during a Laureus Sport for Good Foundation webinar.

“Mine his try was a set move that we practised on the training park for two or three years before that, but that finish from Jaque Fourie and the way it happened, to give Morne that final opportunity to make that kick to win it was incredible.”

“As a rugby player, you always want to contribute. It was a great memory and a pretty spectacular moment for all of us involved. The party in the Monte Casino the following weekend summed up what a great moment it was.

“It’s crazy to think that it’s been 12 years already. The uniqueness of a Lions series as a South African, Australian or New Zealander, that only happens once every 12 years.

“There are some Test centurions that never get an opportunity to play against the Lions. The passion, pride, camaraderie and uniqueness of it is something that many players would give any waking moment to be a part of.

British Irish lions tour: Habana reflects on 2009 Lions series
British Irish lions tour: Habana reflects on 2009 Lions series

“We were fortunate that we had that success in 2007 and saw it as the majority of us staying together with the hope of doing something special in 2009, given that we had lost the series in 1997.”

‘It was a really important goal, short term, that I had written down. 2009 was special and it played a crucial part in my planning and I’m grateful to be part of an occasion that went down in history.’

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British Irish Lions Tour: Lions sew up Fanatics retail partnership for South Africa tour

The British and Irish Lions touring rugby union side have announced a partnership with Fanatics, giving fans access to an expanded range of merchandise produced for the team’s 2021 tour of South Africa. Rugby fans can book British lions 2021 tickets on our website at exclusively discounted prices.

The exclusive global ecommerce agreement will provide supporters with the widest array of products ever created for a Lions tour, while also expanding Fanatics’ rugby portfolio. The sports apparel giant already oversees England Rugby’s retail and online stores.

British Irish Lions Tour: Lions sew up Fanatics retail partnership for South Africa tour
British Irish Lions Tour: Lions sew up Fanatics retail partnership for South Africa tour

The Lions merchandise will be available at the team’s new online store from 15th October.

“We are excited to be able to offer Lions supporters an extensive range of new products that they can wear with pride when supporting the team,” said Ben Calveley, the British and Irish Lions’ managing director.

“The new store will become the online destination to purchase Lions merchandise including the new replica shirt, as well as other Canterbury apparel and Hackett products when they come on the market later this year.”

2021 Lions tour ‘not viable’ if fans unable to travel, warns SA Rugby CEO

Zohar Ravid, Fanatics’ international general manager, added: “The Lions are one of the most iconic teams in global sport and it is an honor to be partnering with them for the 2021 tour to South Africa.

“In partnering with Fanatics, the Lions will gain access to cutting edge e-commerce systems and industry-leading technology. This will provide rapid navigation for fans across online and mobile sites meaning larger, hi-resolution product displays, frictionless checkout, faster website performance, and the quickest access to new product offerings.”

Fanatics reportedly raised a further US$350 million in August as part of a Series E funding round that saw the company’s valuation soar from US$4.5 billion to US$6.2 billion.

British Irish Lions Tour: Lions sew up Fanatics retail partnership for South Africa tour

The Lions, meanwhile, will be hoping that Fanatics’ global reach can help boost their commercial income. In July, the touring side struck a deal with Vodafone that made the telecommunications giant their lead partner for next summer’s tour.

That tie-up came shortly after the Lions teamed up with South Africa Rugby (SAR) to combine their commercial offering, enabling broadcasters, partners, and licensees the chance to fully leverage and activate around a new centralized program. 

Despite the commercial drive, there are still concerns over whether the 2021 series will go ahead amid Covid-19 restrictions. In August, SAR chief executive Jurie Roux warned that the absence of supporters would make the tour, which is due to start on 3rd July, commercially unviable.

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British Irish Lions Tour: Hogg and Russell go head-to-head for European glory

All eyes will be on the battle for European supremacy on Saturday afternoon when Exeter Chiefs and Racing 92 meet in the final of the Heineken Champions Cup at Ashton Gate. Rugby fans can book British lions 2021 tickets on our website at exclusively discounted prices.

The silverware showpiece will be the second of two finals taking place this weekend, with Bristol Bears travelling to France to take on Toulon in the European Challenge Cup on Friday night.

British Irish Lions Tour: Hogg and Russell go head-to-head for European glory
British Irish Lions Tour: Hogg and Russell go head-to-head for European glory

But it is the meeting of Chiefs and Racing that has been given headline billing as two of Scotland’s best players – both British & Irish Lions – come face-to-face on club rugby’s biggest stage.

Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell have been integral to their team’s hopes this season, with both men recognized with a place on the five-man shortlist for European Player of the Year.

And they will now look to put their relationship as international teammates to one side as they attempt to outfox each other and guide their respective teams to a famous victory in Bristol.

The European final also presents a prime opportunity to show Warren Gatland why they deserve a place on the plane to South Africa for next year’s highly-anticipated Lions Tour.

REVISITING AGE-GROUP RIVALRY

Hogg and Russell have been international colleagues for the best part of a decade and have 125 caps between them – but Saturday will not be the first time they’ve come head-to-head.

The encounter at Ashton Gate will see the duo take to the pitch on opposing teams for the first time since they were teenagers playing age-group rugby in Scotland.

“We must have been 12 or 13 years old,” said 2017 Lions tourist and Racing 92 fly-half Russell. “The time I remember is playing against each other in the Gala sevens. 

“Hoggy and Rory Sutherland were playing for Hawick and I was playing for Stirling County. That’s the last time I remember playing Hoggy.”

Since then Hogg and Russell have played together for Glasgow Warriors and Scotland, becoming well-accustomed to each other’s game – something both will attempt to use to their benefit.

British Irish Lions Tour: Hogg and Russell go head-to-head for European glory
British Irish Lions Tour: Hogg and Russell go head-to-head for European glory

“When I played against Stuart – I was chatting to him the other day – I was saying it was probably me doing a lot of the kicking down towards him,” said Russell.

“I know what attacking threats he has got and maybe we can target him in defence or in the air. It’s good knowing him but at the same time it’s also the other way round.

“He knows how I like to play and he knows what I might look for and he might be able to counter that. Maybe I’ll play with my left foot this weekend!”

PRODUCING THE UNEXPECTED

One of the main reasons the duel between Hogg and Russell is being hyped so much is because both players are mavericks capable of pulling a rabbit out of a hat for their teams.

You only have to look at their European semi-finals to see their ability to change the game.

Russell’s vision against defending champions Saracens proved decisive for Racing 92 in the last four, linking up with Virimi Vakatawa to create the match-winning try for Juan Imhoff.

Meanwhile, Hogg’s kicking from deep pinned Toulouse back in Exeter’s semi-final while he was also as slippery as a bag of eels, slaloming through broken field on multiple occasions.

British Irish Lions Tour: Hogg and Russell go head-to-head for European glory

While the Scotland skipper’s running ability often gets overlooked due to Chiefs’ relentless forward press, Hogg’s quick feet often provide the platform – and territory – for Exeter’s success.

But the two-time Lions tourist knows his side faces their toughest challenge yet against Racing 92 – beaten finalists in 2016 and 2018 – and, in particular, his international teammate Russell.

“Finn is an absolutely unbelievable talent and I think at this minute he is one of the best 10s in the world,” Hogg said. “I know how Finn plays; I know that he’s a world-class talent. 

“I think he has got the ability to change the game in a heartbeat. For me, he is one of the most naturally-gifted rugby players I’ve ever come across in my career.”

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British Irish Lions Tour: Hogg stars for chiefs as Roberts rolls back the years

A huge weekend of domestic rugby was dominated by the Premiership semi-finals as four teams were whittled down to two ahead of the showpiece final at Twickenham. Rugby fans can book British lions 2021 tickets on our website at exclusively discounted prices.

A huge weekend of domestic rugby was dominated by the Premiership semi-finals as four teams were whittled down to two ahead of the showpiece final at Twickenham.

Exeter Chiefs and Wasps will contest for the grand prize on October 24 after overcoming Bath Rugby and Bristol Bears, respectively, to secure a visit to England Rugby HQ.

British Irish Lions Tour: Hogg stars for chiefs as Roberts rolls back the years
British Irish Lions Tour: Hogg stars for chiefs as Roberts rolls back the years

Unsurprisingly, all four teams were packed with international quality, as well as several British & Irish Lions, including those with ambitions of making the 2021 Tour to South Africa.

Meanwhile, the second round of Guinness PRO14 action also saw one two-time Lions tourist produce a match-winning display to get his team off the mark in the competition.

And for those who missed any of the weekend’s action-packed drama, here’s the lowdown on the players who may have caught Warren Gotland’s eye with their performance.

HOGG SCORES FOR CLINICAL CHIEFS

Exeter Chiefs remain on course for a domestic and European double after defeating West Country rivals Bath Rugby in their bruising Premiership Rugby semi-final at Sandy Park.

The visitors included three Lions in their starting line-up as Anthony Watson, Jonathan Jospeh and Taulupe Faletau looked to guide Bath to a first Premiership final since 2014/15.

But tries from Jonny Hill and Luke Cowan-Dickie put the Devonians 14-6 ahead at the break, with Wales fly-half Rhys Priest land keeping Bath in touch with a couple of penalties.

And two-time tourist Stuart Hogg, who had already played a key role in Cowan-Dickie’s try with a break deep into Bath territory, then provided the decisive moment after the interval.

The Scotland captain’s tactical kicking kept Bath pinned back and gave him the platform to score Chiefs’ third try – and his sixth for the club – after fine support play by Joe Simmonds.

Further tries from Hill and Ollie Devoto ensured the result was no longer in doubt as Exeter booked their place in the Premiership Rugby showpiece for a fifth consecutive year.

British Irish Lions Tour: Hogg stars for chiefs as Roberts rolls back the years
British Irish Lions Tour: Hogg stars for chiefs as Roberts rolls back the years

WILLIS SHINES AGAIN FOR WASPS

Eddie Jones can expect more calls for Jack Willis to start for England this autumn after the Wasps back-rower excelled again to guide his side to victory over Bristol Bears in Coventry.

Willis was awarded man of the match for his outstanding display at the Ricoh Arena, where the hosts ran in five tries to win 47-24 and reach their first Premiership final since 2017.

Tries from Malakai Fekitoa and Willis, plus three penalties from Jimmy Gopperth, gave the hosts a 23-5 advantage at the half-time break with Luke Morahan responding for Bristol.

Bristol closed the gap with a Harry Thacker try after the restart but Wasps took the game by the scruff of the neck with three more tries from Dan Robson, Zach Kibirige, and Matteo Minozzi.

And while Harry Randall and Max Malins crossed to make the scoreboard look better for the visitors, there were no stopping Wasps from storming into the Twickenham showpiece.

Willis’ work at the breakdown was integral to the hosts’ success, while he also held up Callum Sheedy when he crossed the try line, ensuring the 23-year-old stole all the headlines once again.

ROBERTS ROLLS BACK THE YEARS

Two-time Lions tourist Jamie Roberts rose to the occasion on his home debut for Dragons as the center’s man-of-the-match display carried the Welsh region to a 26-18 win against Zebre.

British Irish Lions Tour: Hogg stars for chiefs as Roberts rolls back the years
British Irish Lions Tour: Hogg stars for chiefs as Roberts rolls back the years

Roberts, who was Lions Player of the Series on the 2009 Tour, was at his rampaging best against the Italian outfit, playing a key role in two tries and scoring one himself in Newport.

Elsewhere, Warren Gatland was watching on as Ulster secured their second Guinness PRO14 win of the season despite captain Iain Henderson being shown a late red card against Ospreys.

Tries from Jacob Stockdale, Marcell Coetzee, and John Cooney, who contributed 14 points in total, helped the Irish province to a 24-12 success against the Welsh side at the Liberty Stadium.

Lion’s tourists Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric, and Rhys Webb were all in action for the hosts under Gatland’s gaze but they were unable to prevent Ospreys from slipping to defeat.

Meanwhile, James Lowe scored a try as Leinster beat Benetton 37-25 while CJ Stander crossed as Munster edged out Edinburgh and Cardiff Blues made it two wins from two as they defeated Connacht 29-7 at Rodney Parade.

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British Irish Lions Tour: Since the tour Stuart Hogg

Having been the youngest player in the Lions squad in Australia four years previously, in which Hogg made five appearances across the warm-up matches, injury, unfortunately, cut short the Scotland star’s Tour before the Tests in 2017. Rugby fans can book British lions 2021 tickets on our website at exclusively discounted prices.

Hogg has recovered from the setback to once again establish himself as one of the leading full-backs in world rugby and now has the added honor of being Scotland’s captain.

The 28-year-old also forms a key part of one of Europe’s leading club sides and he will hope to become a Lions tourist for the third time in South Africa next year – where a first Lions Test cap could be in the offing.

British Irish Lions Tour: Since the tour Stuart Hogg
British Irish Lions Tour: Since the tour Stuart Hogg

In the latest of our series looking at what the 2017 tourists have been up to since we cast an eye over how Hogg has continued to set the standard in the No.15 shirt for club and country.

POST-TOUR REFLECTIONS

The 2017 Tour turned into a case of ‘what might have been’ for Hogg, who was in sensational form going into the series.

His talismanic displays for Scotland saw the full-back named Six Nations Player of the Championship in both 2016 and 2017, becoming just the second player to have won the award twice – following in the footsteps of Brian O’Driscoll.

Hogg was handed the No.15 jersey for the Lions’ first game of the Tour and played the full 80 minutes in a 13-7 victory over New Zealand Provincial Barbarians.

The Scot then started against Crusaders but the game was just 19 minutes old when Hogg suffered a facial injury in an accidental collision with teammate Conor Murray.

The bone fracture ended Hogg’s Tour and denied him the opportunity to make his mark against the All Blacks – leaving the full-back understandably disappointed.

“I’m gutted to be leaving the Tour at this stage,” Hogg said.

“It is an honor to have been involved in a second British & Irish Lions Tour. I have hugely enjoyed my time with the squad and I’m very excited about the potential of this group.

“I’m disappointed to be leaving in this way but wish all the squad the best in the coming weeks and will be cheering them on from home.”

He joined the thousands of Lions supporters doing just that as the tourists claimed a memorable draw in the three-match Test series.

British Irish Lions Tour: Since the tour Stuart Hogg

BACK IN ACTION

Hogg had surgery on an underlying shoulder injury upon his return from the Tour and made his return to action in October 2017 for Glasgow Warriors against Leinster in the European Challenge Cup.

Typically, it was a try-scoring comeback for Hogg, and, with his fitness proved, he was part of Scotland’s squad for the Autumn Internationals.

This gave him a chance to have a crack at New Zealand, having missed out on the chance to do so in a Lions shirt, and Hogg gave a reminder of his supreme talent with a man of the match display.

The full-back came agonizingly close to helping Scotland earn a first-ever win against the All Blacks, racing towards the corner in the dying minutes only to be denied by a last-ditch tackle by Beauden Barrett as the visitors held on for a 22-17 victory at BT Murrayfield.

Hogg played every minute of the 2018 Guinness Six Nations campaign, helping Scotland to three wins and a third-place finish, and scored against Italy in one of his appearances in an injury-hit 2019 Championship.

British Irish Lions Tour: Since the tour Stuart Hogg
British Irish Lions Tour: Since the tour Stuart Hogg

WORLD CUP

Scotland went into the 2019 Rugby World Cup confident of making an impression, with Hogg central to their hopes of doing so.

An under-par display saw them comfortably beaten by Ireland in their Pool A opener but a comfortable 34-0 victory over Samoa got them back on track, Hogg slotting a drop goal to open his account for the tournament.

The full-back was rested for the thumping win over Russia which set up a winner takes all contest against hosts Japan for the right to qualify for the knockout stages.

Hogg played the full 80 minutes of a rollercoaster encounter in front of more than 67,000 passionate fans, the majority of who were delighted by the result as Japan won 28-21 to consign Scotland to an early exit.

Hogg offered no excuses and the disappointment was raw after the match.

“We can’t keep saying we’ll be better for this experience because we’ve said that before,” he said.

“The hard truth is, if we don’t get better, it’s going to be the same situation.

“I don’t think it’s kicked in what’s happened. When it does, it will eat away at me for a long, long time. It’s going to hurt. But this is the place we’ve put ourselves in.”

British Irish Lions Tour: Since the tour Stuart Hogg

CHANGE OF SCENE

Hogg had announced in November 2018 that he would be leaving Glasgow Warriors for Exeter Chiefs following the World Cup, citing a desire to “gain new rugby experiences and push me in different situations where I will be challenged and hopefully improve further.”

He has done just that in his first season in Devon – one interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic – and has played a key role in the Chiefs’ quest for a domestic and European double.

Hogg has scored five tries in 12 Premiership appearances to help his new side to their fifth straight Premiership final – having lost the previous two, Exeter will be hoping to go one better when they take on Wasps at Twickenham on October 24.

Before that, Chiefs take on Racing 92 in the European Challenge Cup final at Bristol’s Ashton Gate on October 17. The Devonians are continuing to break new ground and Hogg’s big-game experience will be crucial as they look to crown their incredible rise with silverware.

LEADING BY EXAMPLE

In January 2020, it was announced that Hogg would captain Scotland in their Six Nations campaign.

He had done the job once before, against the USA in June 2018, and Gregor Townsend put his faith in the full-back to lead an exciting young squad.

Following consecutive defeats against Ireland and England, Hogg scored his first try as skipper with a fantastic solo effort against Italy as Scotland got up and running with a 17-0 win.

British Irish Lions Tour: Since the tour Stuart Hogg

Hogg was again influential in a 28-17 win over France and will hope to help his side end on a high against Wales when the rescheduled final round fixtures take place on October 31.

With the inaugural Autumn Nations Cup to come along with next year’s Six Nations, Hogg will relish the opportunity to lead his side out on the international stage while also looking to keep his name in the Lions frame.

Should he make the squad next summer, Hogg will have completed the set as a Lions tourist. But with a Test cap yet to grace his mantelpiece, he will be eager to ensure he shows exactly what he can do should he be offered an opportunity in South Africa.

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British Irish Lions Tour: Kolisi Shines as young and old battle in green and gold match

Kolisi scored one of three tries for the Green team, alongside a penalty try and a Juarno Augustus effort, in a second0half blitz. Rugby fans can book British lions 2021 tickets on our website on exclusively discounted prices.

There were lots of impressive performances on show from South African stars old and new trying to catch the eye of head coach Jacques Nienaber ahead of next summer’s British & Irish Lions Tour and with the domestic Currie Cup due to begin next weekend.

British Irish Lions Tour: Kolisi Shines as young and old battle in green and gold match
British Irish Lions Tour: Kolisi Shines as young and old battle in green and gold match

In a ‘schoolyard pick’ style draft from all eligible South Africa-based players, Nienaber selected the Gold side’s 25-man squad while national director of rugby Rassie Erasmus served as the Green side’s team commissioner and drafted their 25 players.

Meanwhile, Springbok attack coach Mzwandile Stick coached the Green team, while former Southern Kings coach Deon Davids took charge of the Gold team in an all-star South African affair.

It was a feisty contest full of intensity, with bulldozing No.8 Duane Vermeulen introducing himself almost immediately with a number of powerful carries.

And as the first 40 minutes went on it was international fly-half Elton Jantjies who showed his quality from the tee with two perfect penalty kicks for Team Green.

His opposite number Damian Willemse is much younger and less experienced but showed that he has his eye on Lions recognition with a riposte and three points of his own.

British Irish Lions Tour: Kolisi Shines as young and old battle in green and gold match

Into the second half and the attacking intent increased from both sides but it was the Green outfit who continued in the ascendency and earned the game’s first try

Sanele Nohamba’s kick looked to have set Yaw Penxe free only for Willemse to pull him back, an action which saw a penalty try and yellow card awarded.

Curwin Bosch had started the game at full-back but took over at fly-half in Willemse’s absence and, while on kicking duties, he registered six points from two penalties for the Gold team.

But the Greens were not to be stopped and Kolisi showed just how important his power and intelligence will be for South Africa against the Lions next summer as he displayed real composure to finish off a dominant rolling maul and score.

British Irish Lions Tour: Kolisi Shines as young and old battle in green and gold match

Uncapped Augustus then used all his strength to pick up the scraps from an up-and-under and score the game’s final try – giving the bosses something to think about as valuable minutes were earned for South Africa’s stars in a lively encounter.

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British Irish Lions Tour – Madness if Boks play in Rugby Champs

Former Springbok captain Wynand Claassen believes South Africa should skip this year’s Rugby Championship and focus on the 2021 British & Irish Lions tour.

While the announcement that the 2020 Rugby Championship would be held in Australia from 7 November to 12 December was made by Sanzaar on Friday morning, it was also confirmed that the Springboks’ participation in the tournament was still to be confirmed, dependent on several factors. Rugby fans can book British lions 2021 tickets on our website on exclusively discounted prices.

British Irish Lions Tour -  Madness if Boks play in Rugby Champs
British Irish Lions Tour – Madness if Boks play in Rugby Champs

Claassen says travelling to Australia to compete in the Rugby Championship will not be in the best interest of the Springboks and that SA Rugby should take a stand and withdraw from the competition at least for this year.

‘I honestly believe they should not play in the Championship; it simply doesn’t make any sense to me,’ Claassen told The Citizen.

‘If one thinks that New Zealand and Australia have been playing their domestic rugby for the last two months and our rugby hasn’t even restarted yet, we would definitely be underprepared.

‘What will happen if we again give 50 points away to New Zealand, like what happened in 2016 and 2017 – who will be blamed?

British Irish Lions Tour -  Madness if Boks play in Rugby Champs
British Irish Lions Tour – Madness if Boks play in Rugby Champs

‘We’ve got more to lose by playing in the Championship. We must remember that we are the World Cup champs, the No 1 ranked team in the world and the Rugby Championship holders,’ he said.

‘One has to understand that because of Covid-19 we haven’t been able to restart our local game, but it is what it is and we just have to move on and forget about the Rugby Championship for this year.

‘SA Rugby must just take a stand and decide what is in the best interests of the Boks and their legacy. Yes, money talks, but it’s not all about money; there are many more factors at play.’

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‘England was stupid… that’s killed the Lions tour’: Willie John McBride’s lament for modern rugby

Legendary British and Irish Lions captain Willie John McBride has savagely attacked modern rugby, claiming that it has become an unedifying mix of union, league and American football that is being ruined by an injury crisis and the dominance of money. Rugby enthusiasts can book British lions 2021 tickets on our website on exclusively discounted prices.

Captain of the famous 1974 Lions that conquered South Africa, McBride went international 17 times for tourists on five separate tours, while also winning 63 matches for Ireland before retiring in 1975.

Now in his 80s, he has not struck out in the foreword to Saving Rugby Union, the newly published book written by Ross Reyburn and published by Y Lolfa that tackles the myriad of issues that affect the best development of professional rugby.

'England was stupid... that's killed the Lions tour': Willie John McBride's lament for modern rugby
‘England was stupid… that’s killed the Lions tour’: Willie John McBride’s lament for modern rugby

In addition to facing the lack of space and high injury rate in rugby today, Lions King McBride also lamented the collapse mechanics, crooked feeding at scrum time, the excessive prevalence of replacements and the ease with which players can change nationality.

Willie John McBride

McBride wrote: Rugby today is nothing like the game I played. It is a mix of rugby union and rugby league, which is heavily influenced by rugby union, with players lined up on the field against each other, and American football, with obstruction and blocking.

In the modern game, you can theoretically hold the ball for 40 minutes with endless phases. In the amateur era, once you got down on the ground, you had to drop the ball and escape. The players could then roll over the ball.

Today when the guys go to the ground, they are still holding on to the ball and putting it back with their hands. It allows the sides to hold the ball during phase after phase, as it is very difficult for defenders to catch the ball at half-time. It is absolutely ridiculous.

'England was stupid... that's killed the Lions tour': Willie John McBride's lament for modern rugby
‘England was stupid… that’s killed the Lions tour’: Willie John McBride’s lament for modern rugby

There were never any serious injuries in the rucks because you really had to drop the ball and get away to avoid getting the rake back. If he clings to the ball, he will be penalized.

Today there are more and more pile-ups with knees and elbows hitting other players, causing injuries. Referees explode for a scrum when the ball is buried in a pile of bodies. This just wouldn’t happen in a ruck situation when playing.

On the breakdown, I just don’t understand why people are tackling players who don’t have the ball. It is not a sport, they are just attacking people to get them out. Surely the law says that you cannot tackle a player who does not have the ball.

“Any game has to do with space. The modern game is about closing the gap with players lined up on the field due to the rugby phase. The only thing that surprises me is why they changed our game.”

'England was stupid... that's killed the Lions tour': Willie John McBride's lament for modern rugby
‘England was stupid… that’s killed the Lions tour’: Willie John McBride’s lament for modern rugby

British and Irish Lions legend McBride

Addressing the rising injury rate, Lions legend McBride added: “There is an injury crisis in rugby. You watch all the international matches that are played. How many do you see that are injury-free? I think every player should be playing 80 minutes unless he has to leave the field injured. I played for 14 years and never left the field in my life.”

I’ve seen young boys from academies who have been told, ‘You’re too light. You have to put two stones to be successful. The children are growing up. They eat all these food supplements that I call drugs and doing all these weights. Your bones cannot support what your muscles demand. This is bad. The only thing they taught me when I was little was to be flexible. They are tied to the muscles and are more prone to injury.

It is terrible to see all these people running and on the field in an international match. Recently, a player was signed with one minute to go, there could be no difference in the result. I once asked my old adversary Colin Meads how you would feel if they took you with 20 minutes to go. I can’t repeat what he said, but it was pretty much “you can fill the game”.

'England was stupid... that's killed the Lions tour': Willie John McBride's lament for modern rugby
‘England was stupid… that’s killed the Lions tour’: Willie John McBride’s lament for modern rugby

I also find it unsettling how easily players can change their national allegiance. It devalues international rugby. When Wales defeated Ireland 25-7 in the 2019 Six Nations, all Welsh points were scored by two New Zealanders, Gareth Anscombe and Hadleigh Parkes. That cannot be correct.

If you play for Ireland, you should have Irish blood running through your veins. The residential rating should be ten years and that would leave players playing for a country when they don’t have an immediate family connection. The only thing the Irish Rugby Union got right is that they own the players. England was stupid, as the RFU allowed the Premiership clubs to take control of the players. That is over.

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Since the British Irish Lions tour: Liam Williams

Chief among them is ‘that’ magic step by Liam Williams, whose magnificent run in the first Test at Eden Park laid the platform for one of the best Lions tries of all time, finished off by Sean O’Brien. Rugby fans can book British lions 2021 tickets on our website on exclusively discounted prices.

It announced Williams’ arrival on the biggest stage and his performances showed no let-up in the two Tests that followed as the versatile Welshman played a key role in helping the tourists earn a drawn series.

Since the British Irish Lions tour: Liam Williams
Since the British Irish Lions tour: Liam Williams

Williams has continued to excel for club and country since and will hope to become a Lions tourist for the second time in South Africa next summer.

And in the latest part of our new series looking at what the 2017 tourists have been up to since, we examine how Williams has added to his trophy cabinet on the domestic, continental and international stage.

TOUR REFLECTIONS

Williams’ ability to operate just as effectively at both wing and full-back – his first 50 caps for Wales were split equally between the two positions – made him an invaluable member of the 2017 Lions squad.

Since the British Irish Lions tour: Liam Williams
Since the British Irish Lions tour: Liam Williams

His first appearance on Tour came on the left-wing in the 12-3 win at Crusaders but it was a sterling display wearing No.15 against Chiefs that saw Williams put his name in the frame for Test selection.

A fantastic break set up Jared Payne’s try and the Welshman looked comfortable under the high ball as Lions won 34-6, with Williams’ performance enough to earn him a starting berth at full-back in the first test.

It was a selection that was vindicated on the 35-minute mark when Williams collected a pass from Anthony Watson deep inside his own 22 with seemingly little on.

A step inside Kieran Read saw space open up and the full-back seized upon it, making his way to the halfway line before his progress was eventually halted.

His offload to Jonathan Davies kept the momentum going and the ball found its way via Elliot Daly to O’Brien, who charged over for an incredible team score.

“I looked up, I saw a bit of space and I just stuck my head down,” said Williams afterward, with more than a touch of understatement.

“I love playing 15, and I love having the ball in hand and I love having a run.

Since the British Irish Lions tour: Liam Williams
Since the British Irish Lions tour: Liam Williams

“There are times when you have to stick it long or go up to the air. It was on, and I had a go and at the end of that move we had scored in the left-hand corner.”

Lions ended up on the losing side in the first Test but Williams was influential once more as the tourists squared the series the following weekend, providing the assist for fellow countryman Toby Faletau’s try in a 24-21 win in Wellington.

Williams impressed again in the third Test, looking solid under the high ball and threatening with ball in hand in the hard-fought 15-15 draws which secured a historic tied series.

ON THE MOVE

Williams had enjoyed a dream end to his time at Scarlets before the 2017 Tour, scoring the opening try in their convincing 46-22 victory over Munster in the Guinness PRO12 Final which secured the first title for the club since 2003.

Upon returning from New Zealand he has begun a new challenge with English Premiership heavyweights Saracens and continued his domestic dominance.

Williams scored 11 tries in all competitions during his first season with the London outfit, which saw those crowned Premiership champions, and scored a blistering 25-minute hat-trick against Bristol Bears in his first match of the 2018/19 season.

Another treble followed against Bath just three weeks later and he continued to cross the whitewash regularly including when the season reached crunch time.

The jet-heeled Welshman scored in both the semi-final and final in the 2018/19 Premiership play-offs as Saracens sealed back-to-back titles and played the full 80 minutes on the right-wing in the European Champions Cup final against Leinster, which Sarries won 20-10 to complete a memorable double.

Williams’ overall Premiership record in his time at Allianz Park was quite remarkable. He scored 16 tries in 21 matches and lost just twice in the competition in a Saracens shirt.

Since the British Irish Lions tour: Liam Williams

GRAND SLAM WINNER

Nowhere was the Welsh international’s versatility better displayed than in the 2018 Guinness Six Nations, when he played in a different position in each of his three matches.

Having lined up on the right-wing in Dublin, Williams was at full-back in the win over Italy before switching to the left-wing for the visit of France to Cardiff – when Williams’ fourth-minute score proved crucial in a 14-13 win.

The following year’s Championship saw Williams start at full-back in all five games and he was named man of the match in their 21-13 win over England at the Principality Stadium.

A 25-7 triumph over Ireland in Round 5 sealed a Grand Slam – the third time Wales had achieved a clean sweep under Warren Gatland.

Gatland’s final tournament in charge was the 2019 World Cup and Williams was quickly into his groove, scoring in pool stage victories over Georgia and Fiji.

He played in the quarter-final success against France but an ankle injury picked up in training ruled him out of the last four clashes against South Africa, who edged out Gatland’s men 19-16 before beating England in the final.

Williams made his return to international rugby in Wales’ defeat to Twickenham in March and will hope to feature during what remains of the 2020 Guinness Six Nations as well as in the inaugural Autumn Nations Cup.

BACK HOME

Saracens’ enforced relegation from the Premiership for salary cap breaches saw Williams return to Scarlets, who he re-joined with immediate effect in February 2020.

The Covid-19 pandemic forced rugby into lockdown in the months that followed and Williams is yet to make his second debut for the Llanelli-based side, but he will be eager to make an impression when he gets going again with his first professional club as he seeks an opportunity to earn further Lions recognition next summer.

British Irish Lions Tour tickets are available on our website at very discounted prices. So fans can book British lions Tickets on www.xchangetickets.com.

British and Irish lions would be the ultimate dream

Wales international Nick Tompkins has outlined his ambition to play for The British & Irish Lions next summer, stating it would be the “ultimate dream” to go to South Africa.

The 25-year-old is currently on a season-long loan at Dragons from Saracens and made his international debut for Wayne Pivac’s Wales in this year’s Six Nations.

He announced his arrival on the international stage with a try against Italy, the first of his four caps so far, and the centre is expected to be named in Pivac’s autumn squad this week.

British and Irish lions would be the ultimate dream
British and Irish lions would be the ultimate dream

But while his immediate focus is on impressing for club and country, Tompkins hopes he can do enough in the next year to achieve his end goal – representing the Lions in South Africa.

“That would be the ultimate dream,” Tompkins told the Scrum V podcast. “The dream is there, but the goal is with Wales and the Dragons.

“Firstly, I want to help the Dragons improve however I can and perform on a high stage with them.

“But then I made this move as well because I wanted to focus on international rugby and put a stamp down on that and prove why I am there.

“After that you are looking at the Lions as well. I started small because the big end goal has to be there because you need the motivation.

“I would be lying if I said I did not have anything to work towards and it has to be international rugby and why not the Lions? I am not saying I am making it, I am saying I am going to try.

“The goal is with Wales, trying to get into the camp, get into that starting line-up and control what I can control. That is all I can do.”

Tompkins is one of several new players to have arrived at Rodney Parade in the past few months, with two-time Lions tourist Jamie Roberts and Wales international Jonah Holmes.

British and Irish lions would be the ultimate dream

And while he has missed his Saracens teammates, Tompkins is relishing the new challenge ahead of him at the Welsh region as he looks to take a more senior role.

“It was exciting on so many different levels,” he explained. “Coming from Sarries and quite a chaotic situation which is tough for those lads, I don’t know how they are doing it.

“The uncertainty there is mental and is still going on. As much as I miss the boys, to get away from that and to go and focus on the Dragons has been a godsend.

“It has given me a different task and standing in the group.

“With Sarries I was a bit of a cog in a machine and rightly so because there are so many unbelievable players there like Lions and experienced people like Brad Barritt.

“I come to the Dragons and I am now a senior player and have to take on a role I have not done before. I am out of my comfort zone and learning a lot which I definitely need to do.

“It’s so refreshing to have that kind of outlook and be in that role. That’s my journey and what I need to work out.”

British Irish Lions Tour tickets are available on our website at very discounted prices. So fans can book British lions 2021 Tickets on www.xchangetickets.co.za.

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