'If it has to go ahead in the UK then it is still 15 green against 15 red and it will still be very special'
World Cup winner Lood de Jager insists switching the British and Irish Lions tour from South Africa to the UK this summer would create a unique opportunity for the rugby world to see “ 15 green against 15 red” and make his boyhood dream come true.
While de Jager accepts it would be a bitter disappointment for his family and South African fans to be robbed by the COVID-19 pandemic of seeing the Lions series “live”, ensuring the first Springbok series against the Lions for 12 years takes place is vital. “ It is going to be very unique and I don’t think there will ever be a Lions series played in the UK again,” said de Jager.
Having battled back from a third shoulder reconstruction, de Jager is focused on powering Sale’s bid for the Gallagher Premiership and proving that he is ready to pull on the Springbok jersey again. The World Cup champions have not played a test match since beating England in Yokohama to lift the cup on November 2, 2019 and while this will have an impact on the Springboks preparations for the three test Lions series, de Jager is adamant the squad will be ready.
He said: “Wherever they want to do it then it would be special to be part of the series if I am lucky enough to be picked. There is a lot of speculation about playing the Lions here in the UK or even in Australia and I am just waiting to find out because playing against the Lions is something I have dreamt about since I was a little boy. I remember the Lions tour in 2009 when I was still in school and it was so important to everyone in South Africa. That is why they don’t want to do the tour without fans because that is what makes it so special.
“I watched all the games on TV in 2009 with my Dad and because the tours only happen every 12 years you are so lucky to play in a test series against them. It is rarer than a World Cup and you could be a guy who plays in two Cups and never get the chance to take on the Lions so it is really special. If I can be part of Lions series then that is something amazing and I would cherish that forever.
“To miss this tour then players will never get a chance again and that is why it’s important. It doesn’t matter where that is, although it would be amazing to have it home with our families there and the boost it would give to the people and the economy. That is why it would be sad if it couldn’t go ahead in South Africa and that would be the biggest disappointment. But you can only control what you can control and if it has to go ahead in the UK then it is still 15 green against 15 red and it will still be very special.
“It has been strange not to be with the guys and we were a very tight group at the World Cup with some special memories together in that environment. It has been 15 months since we were in camp but being in Sale we are fortunate have a number of South Africans because there are some guys who are alone at their clubs during this pandemic. Obviously, it would be great to get together again with the Boks and see some old friends and some of them I haven’t seen since the World Cup trophy tour in South Africa.”
De Jager’s lockdown and rehabilitation time has been filled not only by work to get himself fit, but also time spent with his young family with two children under three years old. With what director of rugby Alex Sanderson calls de Jager’s new “metal shoulders” he is able to pick up his children as well has undertake the specialist weight training that has been devised to ensure the damaged areas remain strong. Having played the second half of the defeat at Harlequins, de Jager is in action again when champions Exeter visit the AJ Bell Stadium.
He added: “It is good to be back and to finally be out on the field. We didn’t play particularly well against Quins but looking at the bigger picture it was great for me to be out there an I really enjoyed it. It takes a while to get used to the contact again and it is hard not to have high expectations and you just have to trust the process and that you are not going to be at your best in those first couple of games and it has been frustrating for me coming back from injuries to always have that expectation that you want to paly at a certain level and with the rustiness it doesn’t happen. That can be hard and I told myself to just go out there and enjoy it this time and while I still want to play really well I want to enjoy myself.
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“When you are out of the game it does give you a bit of perspective about how much you miss it.
“I do a lot of shoulder rehab stuff strengthening the shoulder and the scapular and rotator muscles to make sure they are strong and firing. I do two or three gym sessions a week and one will be upper body then lower body and the third is just shoulder rehab to make sure everything is nice and loose. I do a little bit of extra stuff on the shoulders and the guys at Sale have be unbelievable.
“It is good to have those guys around you when you are low after the injury and they pick you up and I am very thankful to have worked with people like that. I now walk into the changing room and there is someone taller than me ( JP du Preez) and that is a first for me. I am tall but he takes it to a new level and it means we have really good line-out options now and it has been working well in the last couple of weeks and before that it wasn’t that great.
“We now face Exeter and it will be a massive set-piece battle at scrum and maul and we all know how dangerous they are with the pick and go in your 22. The physical battle is going to be the biggest part of the game and hopefully, we can front up. We have a good idea of what they are going to bring and if we can exert ourselves then we can bounce back with a good result.”
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