At last, I get to say those immortal words…"I was there!" Ellis Park still had that electric atmosphere even though the series was effectively over. The Red Army rolled in to town and yet again owned the Boks in their back yard. The day started for us on a high as we were bussed into Soweto to enjoy their hospitality and watch our scratch touring team take on a Soweto XV.
The game was a breath of fresh air, the true art of rugby. Having witnessed some breathtaking, nerve jangling games over the past few weeks it was great to get back to watching grass roots rugby at its best. Uncontested scrums, a multitude of knock-ons from over eager hands, and a lineout that resembled 16 different ways to hail a taxi. A big shout must go out to the Soweto Fullback, who at 62 years old was the senior citizen of the tie. I hope to be there too one day!
This tour has brought back the good old values of rugby and friendship, rubbing shoulders with your heroes and suits that would have yesteryear been out of reach. We were graced at the match by the President of the South African Rugby Football Union, who was keen to have a beer with the Lions supporters and admire some of the skills shown on the park – a top man who now is the proud owner of a Worthing RFC Blazer badge….we expect to see it on the box next time you appear!
Most of the grounds here have been either dry or fairly difficult to get some pre-match refreshments, so we enterprisingly decided to bring our own Isotonic Lagers (being top class touring athletes of course). This however, was to fall flat on its face as I was hijacked by a blast from the past – no other than Mr Robert Jones (9) and his pals. We were left with one Castle between us…..I wouldn’t have had it any other way!
This reporting assignment has really come full circle now, as when I entered the competition to become the Roving Reporter for the Lions Supporters I had to write just 100 words about my favourite Lions moment. It wasn’t published at the time, but I can reveal it was about John ‘Bentos’ Bentley’s try versus Gauteng at Ellis Park, when he pounced on a bouncing ball, lit the red touch paper and scored that marvellous solo try. As the final whistle blew on Saturday and the Green and Gold dispersed from the stadium, 3 rows back from me stood a familiar face – John Bentley himself. I called out loud, “Bentos!”, and he raised his finger to his mouth and went “shhhh…” After climbing over the seats I grabbed a moment of his time and a big Bentos bear hug. The man is truly a legend and yet so firmly on the ground. His first questions to me, “How are the family?” was a true reality check.
My travelling companion Dai Roberts pulled a master stroke for the after party and got us in the hotel with the Lions for the night…not too much can be written about the evening as they are private moments of a team that has been in the public eye for weeks and weeks. All I can reveal is that a certain Irish Second row has a cast iron constitution, as a kebab and beer at 05:30am is a tough part of any training regime….I must look up this diet! Mssrs Croft and Monye, keep up the trumpet lessons boys, there is a long way to go.
I will be leaving one family today. The family that has become the Pride of Lions, but it’s an extended family that I will always be a member of and take so many great memories from. Time to share them back home, I’m on my way darling.
Did I tell you the one about the………