â00We definitely knew about the Lions,â0 said Wentzel, who was born in George Town and won two caps for the Springboks in 2002.
â00We knew about the Lions and the Barbarians but the Lions were much higher profile.â0
Now 29, Wentzel was just a babe in arms when the Lions toured his home country in 1980 but he has no problems recounting events the last time the Lions visited the Republic.
Ian McGeechan and Martin Johnson led the Lions to an historic series victory 11 years ago during a tour that shocked the South African public as well as their players.
â00I remember Johnnoâ00s first tour in 1997. The Lions were pretty impressive that year, particularly as we had a good side, coming out of winning the â0095 World Cup.
â00The Lions went over as underdogs. Because the team gets thrown together and the tour is away from home, you do expect them to struggle, but they did really, really well.
â00I was just starting professionally then and I watched most of those games. That tour made a pretty big impression on a lot of us. We also saw the video (Living with Lions) that they made and that was some good stuff in that.â0
The Lions' victory in 1997 was front page news in South Africa
Wentzel, who is now in his second season with Leicester having made the move from Italian side Treviso the summer before last, believes the 2009 Lions have a good chance of matching the feat of their 1997 counterparts, even though he admits doing so will not be easy.
â00The Lions can expect to play on harder pitches, especially playing in Joâ00Burg. The South African crowds do get behind the boys as well as rugby in South Africa is a bit of a passion. Itâ00s a big social thing â00 I wouldnâ00t call it a religion but itâ00s very important to people. The weather will be different too and theyâ00ll be away from home so everything will be against them.
â00I think the good thing for the Lions, though, is that the level in the Guinness Premiership is going up each year whereas in South Africa, apart from the Super 14, the level has gone down a bit because of the number of players playing overseas. The players over here are improving year on year. I wouldnâ00t say theyâ00re falling behind in South Africa but I donâ00t think the level is as good as it used to be.â0
Marco Wentzel making a tackle during his time with Italian side Treviso
During his time playing Currie Cup, Super 12 and international rugby in South Africa, Wentzel lined up alongside a number of players expected to make a real impression for the reigning World Champions next summer but he admits that the absence of man in particular could be a real blessing for the tourists.
â00Iâ00ve played with most of the senior guys in the Springbok squad, although I havenâ00t been playing in South Africa for five or six years. For South Africa, itâ00s a case of who are the next guys for the next World Cup.Youâ00ve got a lot of great senior guys there, guys like Victor Matfield and Butch James, whoâ00s playing great rugby over here.
â00I played with Victor at the Bulls under (new Leicester coach) Heyneke Meyer and I think itâ00s a shame that South Africa have lost Heyneke. I think they could really have used a guy like him for the future of South African rugby. Itâ00s a loss for Springbok rugby but itâ00s definitely a win for us here at the Tigers.â0
Wentzel may not be directly involved in the action in nine months time, but he will be keeping a close eye on proceedings, especially as there is likely to be some substantial banter flying around Welford Road during and after the tour. A number of his Leicester team-mates may well be wearing Lions colours but Wentzelâ00s loyalty will lie with his countrymen, meaning he will either be taking or dishing out no end of stick depending on who comes out on top in Durban, Pretoria and Johannesburg.
â00Itâ00s one-nil to me in terms of the banter after the World Cup so Iâ00m pretty happy at this stage. Plus we won the Test cricket but we struggled in the One Day internationals. It goes up and down but theyâ00ll definitely be some banter during the Lions tour!â0