Lawrence Dallaglio has claimed that 1997 success with the Lions in South Africa was the best moment of his stellar career rather than winning the 2003 World Cup with England in Australia. The now 47-year-old enjoyed a lengthy Test innings that featured 85 caps with England.
However, Dallaglio believes that his three-Test, eight-week adventure in the home of the Springboks 23 years ago was the pinnacle of his time as a player, the Lions winning the series 2-1.
Reviewing the iconic opening Test win from the 1997 series in South Africa, he told RugbyPass: “Looking back on your career, people ask what was the best moment. Naturally, people expect you to say the Rugby World Cup which was amazing obviously because you don’t get to play in many and the opportunity to win one is fantastic.
“But actually in terms of an experience, the best rugby experience of my life bar none was the 1997 Lions tour to South Africa. It was an odyssey really.
“I was lucky, I didn’t grow up in a traditional rugby background but I had a lot of friends who told me about the Lions and I’d read up about them because it is important to understand what you’re going into.
“A friend of mine in Fulham who runs a second-hand book shop rang me up and said, ‘I have got all these books on these great Lions tours, they are there for you to pick up and read’.
“I read about Carwyn James, Willie John McBride and the tour to South Africa in ’74, read about some of the times when things didn’t go quite so well. I felt like I knew a lot about the environment I was coming into but even that couldn’t quite prepare me for how special it really is.”
Dallaglio went on to tour Australia and New Zealand with the Lions in 2001 and 2005, that later trip cut short by injury in the opening match in Rotorua. However, he describes winning in the Springboks’ back yard as something to treasure because of the notorious reputation the South Africans had for physicality.
“I first went to South Africa in ’94 and it hit me very clearly then that the game had been professional for a lot longer in South Africa than it possibly had been in England. Just the physical size of the players there, even in the backs,” he explained.
“Nowadays there is more of an even spread in terms of people have caught up but in those days you went over there and you just looked at South Africans and thought, ‘Oh my word, they are just big, big guys, big men’.
“Not just big as in tall but just big, huge, huge people, physically intimidating, physically scary. We all learned very quickly from an early age that if you want to have any chance of beating any South African team, but particularly the Springboks, you have to at least match them physically.
“I don’t mean to be unkind but I sort of liken it to the school bully. If you’re in the playground and the school bully comes along, you have a choice – you either take a beating or you stand up to him and South Africa are very much like that.
“They will run at you and they will run really hard and if that doesn’t work they will run at you again and they will run really hard and if that doesn’t work, they are going to run over the top of you.
'It did turn sour'
Ed Griffiths' behind the scenes insight into the Springboks 1995 #RWC win ??, the back story to the Mandela moment, confronting flag-waving fans, holding clothes hangers for luck & the lost opportunity of it all
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) May 24, 2020
“There wasn’t necessarily that much flexibility with the way that they played because they didn’t have to be, they just bullied their way forward. There has always been a bit of that mentality in the South Africans.
“Whether it is the Dutch mentality, I’m not quite sure where it comes from but it is definitely there and more often than not they do bully their way to victory. What we were determined to do as a group of Lions was to say that we are going to stand up to that physical onslaught.”
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