Habana backing on-field pyrotechnics to ignite Lions' tour of South Africa this summer

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Habana, 38, starred against the Lions during the Springboks' 2-1 series victory back in 2009
Habana, 38, starred against the Lions during the Springboks' 2-1 series victory back in 2009

Springbok legend Bryan Habana believes fireworks on the pitch will keep alive the Lions’ spark after the tour’s soul was ripped out by the pandemic, writes Josh Graham.

Warren Gatland’s 37-man squad head to South Africa next week without the traditional sea of travelling red supporters and will only play in three cities with all fans set to be barred amid health and safety concerns.

Former winger Habana was part of the South Africa side that beat the Lions 2-1 in a brutally physical series in 2009 and does not mind if his team lose one of the opening two Tests if it makes for a gripping finale.

“I’m hoping that the on-field performances make it an incredible series,” said Habana, who was speaking at a pre-Lions tour event to highlight the Tackle HIV campaign, and the power that sport and physical activity have to bring about positive social change for individuals and communities.

“I know the Lions will want to come to South Africa like the team did in 1997 and do something amazing by beating the Rugby World Cup champions.

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“I hope that will really make for an extra spicy series.

“For the 30 players that will be playing in those Test matches, it will be massive.

“The experience will obviously be very different, but I know the South African players are so eager to get back onto the international stage having not played together since the World Cup final in 2019.

“The players will be leaving everything out on the field. It won’t be a series like in 2009 with the travelling fans but it won’t take away from the monumental occasion that is the Lions tour.”

“I would actually love it to be 1-1 going into the third Test, just to create the extra hype.

“The reason I say that is in ‘97 we saw the Lions win the first two games, in 2009 we won the first few games, and that last game almost becomes less of an affair.

“I really do believe given the experience of the Springbok squad they have exactly what it takes to match the Lions and come out victorious by clinching a 2-1 series win in the third.”

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Habana, who scored 67 tries in 124 caps, is relieved the series was not cancelled or staged away from South Africa with the country desperate to host the best rugby talent Britain and Ireland can offer.

The 2007 World Cup winner added: “It’s sad the Lions players won’t be able to experience going into the communities or travel to the various provinces in South Africa. It’s all in bubbles now.

“It’s sad the players won’t get the experience of travelling fans and that we won’t have fans in the stadia, but I am grateful the tour is going ahead because I know South Africa needs it.

“If it hadn’t, it would have had to be postponed for four years because it just can’t fit anywhere into the current rugby calendar.

“So we really needed the Lions tour to go ahead.”

Tackle HIV, a campaign led by Gareth Thomas in partnership with ViiV Healthcare and the Terrence Higgins Trust, aims to tackle the stigma and misunderstanding around HIV. For more information visit www.tacklehiv.org and follow @tacklehiv

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