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'Listen, it will be phenomenal for us, for South Africa'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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Springboks boss Jacques Nienaber can’t wait for July 2 in Pretoria, the first time in 35 months that South Africa will play a Test match in front of a home crowd. The pandemic wiped out their domestic calendar in 2020 and all six home Test games in 2021 – the warm-up clash with Georgia, the three-Test series with the British and Irish Lions and two Rugby Championship meetings with Argentina – all went ahead behind closed doors due to the ongoing virus issues across the country. 

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It means that when the Springboks run out at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday week, it will be the first time home fans in South Africa will get to see them play in person in three years since 29,826 were present at the same venue in August 2019 to watch them defeat Argentina in a pre-World Cup departure match. 

The bleak closed doors backdrop that existed during the British and Irish Lions tour last year is currently being seen close up by fans in the UK and Ireland as ITV is broadcasting for the first time Two Sides, the behind-the-scenes documentary covering what transpired in the respective Springboks and Lions camps during the 2021 tour that took place without any supporters in attendance at the stadium in Cape Town. 

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Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber on foreign versus locally-based players
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Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber on foreign versus locally-based players

The third and final hour-long episode in the Whisper and T+W-produced series is due to be shown this Tuesday night, June 21, at 10:45pm and ahead of that broadcast, Springboks head coach Nienaber reported that the situation is now very different for rugby in South Africa ahead of the incoming Wales tour compared to last year’s Lions series. 

Asked by RugbyPass for his thoughts on the difference between now and then and the prospect of the Springboks finally getting to play in front of a home crowd in South Africa after an extraordinarily long wait, Nienaber said: “Listen, it will be phenomenal for us, for South Africa. If you think of the fans in South Africa, as the Springboks we haven’t played in front of a crowd since we won the World Cup. 

“We have never performed in our country for our country as world champions (with a crowd watching). The last time we played in South Africa was against Argentina at Loftus before we went to the World Cup, so it is going to be massive for us. And the same for the players from Wales, there was a big contingent of them on the Lions tour and it will be awesome. Touchwood nothing happens going forward and things stay as almost back to normal as it is. 

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“Things in South Africa are, in my opinion, normal like it was pre-covid. There are still some regulations there to oblige by but it is not at all like it was with the British and Irish Lions. I must say looking back at it, it will be a time that will always be remembered. The sacrifices made by both the British and Irish Lions players, management, their families and the South African players, management and their families were tremendous.

“It speaks volumes for how big a series that is and how big a tournament the British and Irish Lions is, how big a deal it is. It’s massive. In my opinion, it’s the World Cup in that. The other things are important, the Rugby Championship, Six Nations, all that but that is such a unique thing. I’m talking about uniqueness and the British and Irish Lions is a unique series as is World Cup.”  

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