Jean de Villiers: Ex-South Africa captain says British and Irish Lions have edge over rusty Springboks

Former South Africa captain Jean de Villiers says the British and Irish Lions hold a big advantage heading into this summer’s series due to the Springboks’ inactivity.

It is almost 17 months since South Africa defeated England in the Rugby World Cup final and they have been unable to play a game since due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Following confirmation the Lions tour will go ahead in South Africa as originally scheduled, De Villiers says the world champions must quickly put a plan in place to ensure their players are up to speed.

“It will be tough preparation,” said De Villiers, who won 109 caps for the Springboks.

“There were some amazing games in the Six Nations. These guys are getting back into the groove while South Africa’s players are just sitting on the couch, not able to play as a national side.

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“The odds are a little bit stacked against us. Rassie Erasmus [South Africa’s director of rugby] and Jacques Nienaber [head coach] now know when and where it will happen. They’ll put all the pieces of the puzzle together to get as good a preparation as possible. It’s the only thing they have control over now.

“You can’t change the last 12 months but what you can do is have an effect on the next six months to make sure we experience an amazing Lions series.”

After the disappointment of missing South Africa’s World Cup triumph in 2007 due to injury, De Villiers played a key role in their win over the Lions two years later.

He started the first two Tests as the Springboks clinched an epic series with a game to spare before cantering to their first Tri-Nations title in five years.

“2009 was an extremely special year,” said De Villiers. “The Lions series was one of the pinnacles of my career. Taking into account my history with World Cups, playing in a winning Lions series was amazing.

“Also remember the last time the Lions were beaten was in 2009. They won in Australia and drew in New Zealand so they have something to prove in South Africa.

“For the players, it will be an amazing experience. A lot of players made the decision to either stay in South Africa or keep playing because of the Lions series and what it means to them.”

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