With just one more match left on their 10-game tour of South Africa, the 2009 Lions visited Entabeni Safari Park north of Johannesburg for some R&R following last Saturday’s cruel second Test defeat to the Springboks.
Lionsrugby.com caught up with a few of the party to get their thoughts on what was a truly unique experience.
Here’s what Tom Croft, Ugo Monye, Jamie Roberts and Ross Ford had to say about bonding with an entirely different pride of lions…
"I’ve never been on safari before and it was a great opportunity to see animals in the wild. It was brilliant driving out of the lodge to see a giraffe standing there right in front of you. It takes you aback, you think it’s staged and it’s hard to realise it’s in the real and in the wild.
"The whole experience, the landscape and seeing the animals, is something you don’t experience that often. On Monday we went on an early game drive, jumped in the truck, grabbed a blanket and were driven round. We saw all sorts of animals, the hippos in the water, elephants, warthogs, zebras, a hell of lot of impala and deer and the backside of the elusive lion!
"We were asked if we wanted to jump in with the lion and we said ‘yes’ – I just thought it’s like a big cat really! So got I got in with the lion and found out it was a bit more than a big cat! It was very strong. In England you’d never be able to do that, so it’s really special that they let us go in with a lion.
"It was a bit scary and if you show fear it would probably try and swipe your head off but you just had to bat it way. Me and that lion have a special bond now!"
Tom Croft shows no fear as he enters the Lions’ den
"The safari was amazing, to actually see the elephants and the lions up close and then, right at the end, to actually get in the cage with the lion was one of the best moments of the tour.
"I think I would be talking it up if I said I was wrestling with a lion but I patted him a couple of times! To be in a cage with a lion was awesome and the guy that looked after the lion said something very memorable; he felt it was important for us to get into the cage with the lion to understand the name lion and what we are representing and when you see the beauty and the actual power of the lion it really does blow your mind.
"The lion was only 18 months old but it was enormous, it was powerful, fairly scary but an experience that I’ll remember for a long time."
"The safari was thoroughly enjoyable and it was great to relax. The night around the camp fire was one of the best nights of the tour.
"The safari spoke for itself, to see all the animals in the wild was amazing and it was an experience of a lifetime going into the cage with a lion."
"The safari was brilliant fun. Probably the highlight for me would be getting in the cage with a lion, a young lion but still a lion. It was a phenomenal experience just to see nature so close."