All Blacks stars Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara and Brodie Retallick have all offered their thoughts on the outcome of the upcoming British and Irish Lions series of South Africa.
The Lions are due to visit the country for an eight-match tour between July and August, with a three-test series against the Springboks being the blue-ribbon event of the trip.
Much has been made about the feasibility of the tour amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but organisers are forging ahead with staging the tour in South Africa, which has been ravaged by the virus with over 1.5m cases and more than 50,000 deaths.
Nevertheless, the Lions look set to travel to the Republic for the first time since 2009, although it seems likely the tour will go ahead without any fans.
The absence of the boisterous Lions faithful, as well as their South African counterparts, will play a significant role in the outcome of the test series, according to Retallick.
Speaking to media over a Zoom call, the 81-test lock, who is currently on sabbatical with Top League club Kobelco Steelers in Japan, said it’s “hard” to predict a winner between the two sides.
However, the 29-year-old – who, along with Perenara and Barrett, faced the Lions when they toured New Zealand in 2017 – conceded the lack of atmosphere provided by Lions fans could hurt the touring side’s chances of success.
“It’s always hard beating South Africa in South Africa. I think a massive part of the Lions experience, for me, was having their travelling supporters,” Retallick said.
“They almost took over our stadiums with the singing and the chanting and stuff, which, obviously, will be a massive support, so it’ll be a tough one.”
He added the fact that the Springboks haven’t played a test since their successful World Cup campaign in Japan two years ago could also work in favour of the Lions, whose players will have already featured in at least one Six Nations and an Autumn Nations Cup since 2019.
“They probably haven’t had much rugby, South Africa, in terms of test rugby, but, again, it’s very hard to beat South Africa in South Africa, so we’ll wait and see. Either way, I’m sure it will be a good spectacle.”
Retallick’s view of how the tour may play out echoed the sentiments issued by Perenara, who said the absence of the Lions supporters and the lack of tests played by the Springboks since the World Cup could impact both sides.
All Blacks great Beauden Barrett is all for Super Rugby Trans-Tasman also involving two Pacific Islands teams, but also wants to see some Japanese flavour in the mix.https://t.co/aYZdzTSXnN
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) April 28, 2021
“It’s tough, like it’ll be hard to beat South Africa in South Africa, no matter what team you are in the world,” the NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes halfback, who also confirmed he is deadly serious about a cross-code move to the NRL later this year, said.
“What’s going against the Springboks is the amount of games they’ve played since the World Cup final, the amount of time they’ve spent as a team, but it’s hard to bet against South Africa in South Africa. They’re a really, really good team.”
Barrett, meanwhile, said hoped the tour went ahead as planned despite the circumstances and restrictions rugby fans in South Africa are currently faced with.
“I understand there are a lot of challenges, being COVID in amongst that, but, yeah, I’m looking forward to [the series],” the two-time World Rugby Player of the Year – who, like Retallick and Perenara, is also on sabbatical in Japan with Suntory Sungoliath – said.
“I’m not sure where they’re at with COVID… whether there are going to be crowds at the stadiums in South Africa, but I couldn’t think of many better things [than a Lions tour with live fans].
“Having that home advantage is important, especially if the fans from the UK can support as well, because that’s one big part of it, seeing the sea of red travel, the singing. It just adds to the significance of the Lions series.
“It’s exciting. Hopefully they can make this happen. It wouldn’t be the same if there were no fans, but I mean it would be great to see the match.”
“Coming to Japan was definitely a result of how much rugby I played in those first five or six years.”
— The XV Rugby (@TheXV) April 28, 2021
The Lions will play Japan in a warm-up test at Murrayfield in Edinburgh on June 26 before they kick their tour of South Africa off against the Stormers in Cape Town a week later.
Their test series against the Springboks will get underway on July 24 at FNB Stadium in Johannesburg, while two further tests are scheduled to be held in Cape Town on July 31 and then back in Johannesburg at Ellis Park on August 7.
Retallick, Perenara and Barrett, meanwhile, will all take part in next week’s Top League quarter-finals after their sides won in the second round of the competition’s play-offs last weekend.
Perenara’s Red Hurricanes are set to square off against a Toyota Verblitz side featuring ex-All Blacks captain Kieran Read, Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper and Springboks fullback Willie le Roux in Kumamoto next Saturday.
Retallick’s Kobelco Steelers will then face the Kubota Spears, headlined the likes of Ryan Crotty, Bernard Foley and Malcolm Marx, in Fukuroi the following day.
That match will be followed by a showdown between Barrett’s Suntory Sungoliath and the Ricoh Black Rams in Oita.
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