Francois Pienaar’s rugby life changed dramatically in the middle to late 1990s, and after leading South Africa to Rugby World Cup glory in 1995, he watched from the stands as the Springboks went down in the 1997 series against the British & Irish Lions.
Pienaar played his final Test on 10 August 1996, when he was forced to leave the field with concussion in the second Test against New Zealand in Cape Town in the inaugural Tri-Nations (now the Castle Lager Rugby Championship).
After that, he relocated to North London to play for English club Saracens, meaning he would miss out on the British & Irish Lions’ first visit to South Africa since 1980.
But Pienaar has no regrets, as he recently said in an interview on the SA Rugby Podcast.
“Why regret stuff? It’s something I always debate but life moves on and you have to make the best of the hand you’ve been dealt,” said Pienaar, who captained the Springboks in all 29 Tests he played
“Leaving South Africa and arriving at Saracens, then still very amateur, weren’t ideal – I almost came back. But I was appointed player / coach and we were fortunate to win a title that year, for the first time in 127 years.
“So, when the Lions came to South Africa in 1997, I brought my friends from England with me, to come and watch.
“We toured South Africa as Springbok fans with some of our English friends, including Saracens backer Nigel Wray and his whole family. The result wasn’t great, but we had a great time.”
Pienaar is massively excited for next year’s Lions tour and said he is already planning on experiencing the series by travelling across South Africa to watch matches.
“The Lions experience is just phenomenal – the camaraderie that brings together players who are used to fighting each other but then become one, they sing each other’s songs, enjoy the tour together … it is just special.
“And next year’s tour is going to be fantastic. We’ve already discussed with friends to do something special, to again tour our country and follow the Lions as they face the Springboks – I’m looking forward to being a tourist again.”
The first seven podcasts, which feature Rassie Erasmus; Branco du Preez, Aled Walters and Jacques Nienaber; Cheslin Kolbe and Handre Pollard; Bongi Mbonambi, Malcolm Marx and Schalk Brits; Joel Stransky; Jurie Roux; and Mark Andrews, and can be accessed here.