FORMER South Africa captain John Smit believes the 2021 Lions tour has the potential to be the “spiciest” in history.
Warren Gatland’s Lions will face the world champion Springboks in three Tests in 2021, looking to avenge their series defeat in 2009.
The tour will also have an extra edge given South Africa’s brutal dismantling of England in the World Cup final and their narrow semi-final win over Wales.
“That final was the best dress rehearsal for probably one of the spiciest British Lions tours ever,” said Smit.
“It’s wonderful this game continues to bring us things we can’t wait to see. The last Lions series in 2009 brought the most tightly contested Test matches I have ever been a part of.
“The second one in Pretoria was the hardest Test match I have ever played in. It was an incredible experience.
“I was fortunate to play in 1997 as a replacement for Natal Sharks and scrummaging against Dai Young. I got a test of the British and Irish spirit.”
Former hooker Smit, who captained the Springboks to World Cup glory in 2007, believes their recent victory in Japan can transform South Africa as a nation.
He said: “Since 1994 when we became a democracy one of the things that sticks out was watching Madiba (Nelson Mandela) being released from prison.
“The next moment was watching a Springbok team which was probably a symbol of apartheid being transformed into a tool of unity for South Africa through the way Madiba campaigned in 1995.
“Twenty four years later can you imagine what Madiba would be thinking, seeing a black African guy lifting the World Cup for South Africa?”
Wales skipper Alun Wyn Jones is favourite to lead the Lions in 2021 and former World Cup-winning captain Francois Pienaar believes he trumps the likes of Siya Kolisi and Kieran Read as the best captain in world rugby.
Pienaar said: “I think he’s the best. To make that call against South Africa in the semi-finals by taking a scrum instead of an easy three points got Wales back into the game. That’s the mark of a great captain.
“I’m a big fan. He’s been a great, great servant of the game and he’s really done well if you look at the Welsh performances over the last two years. They’ve been phenomenal.”
Pienaar was quick to praise the impact on South Africa made by head coach Rassie Erasmus.
He said: “It’s quite unusual in that he doesn’t have a frame of a team that coaches normally have. When England won in 2003, it was mainly Leicester and Wasps.
“When South Africa won in 2007, it was the Bulls and the Sharks. You look at Crusaders for New Zealand in 2011 and 2015, but Rassie had to bring players in from all over the world.
“There’s a lot of players overseas who have been galvanised and he’s done an incredible job with his tactics.
“The way the team executed his tactics were great. Nobody had a bad game. It was a credit to him.”