Series winner hopes for same again

John Bentley says comparisons between the Lions of 1997 and 2009 are unnecessary but that similarities will begin to emerge now that the Test series has almost arrived. [more]

Series winner hopes for same again

John Bentley says comparisons between the Lions of 1997 and 2009 are unnecessary but that similarities will begin to emerge now that the Test series has almost arrived.

Former Halifax Rugby League wing Bentley was a surprise inclusion in the Lions squad 12 years ago but he went on to become one of the most influential characters on tour thanks to his larger-than-life personality, supreme team ethic and an incredible array of tries in Lions colours.

With the current crop of Lions now preparing to face the Springboks in Durban this Saturday, Bentley believes the class of 2009 have the chance to step out of the shadow of previous sides to have toured South Africa and write their very own chapter in the history books.

"It would not be right to compare the current team with the 1997 team as it wasn’t right to try and compare us with the 1974 team," said Bentley, who started the second and third Tests against the Boks in ’97.

"The only thing we have in common was that we all wore a red jersey a long way from home in a hostile environment. As you approach the first Test, you realise that you are a small group of people against a whole nation."

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Like Ian McGeechan’s latest group of tourists, the 1997 Lions went into the three-match Test series as severe underdogs.

Bentley and co overcame that preconception to record a famous series victory and the 42-year-old hopes that the staggering numbers of supporters expected to cheer on the Lions in Durban, Pretoria and Johannesburg can inspire Paul O’Connell’s men to a similarly impressive triumph.

"Each Lions tour is special and that is particularly true for tours to South Africa," added Bentley.

"No one gave us a chance when we went out there. The Springboks were expected to win the series 3-0.

"We probably didn’t realise the size of our achievement at the time, until we got home. But the current group will know what they are up against.

"Less than 10,000 fans travelled to South Africa in 1997; they are talking about 50,000 plus being there this time."

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