Emotion, levity and restlessness – the latest Lions documentary is fascinating to watch
On Sunday evening, the documentary from the 2021 British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa, titled ‘Two Sides’, will be shown in the UK for the first time on ITV.
Telegraph Sport have had early access to the three-part series, which covers every moment from the announcement of the Lions squad in May last year – with a window into the selection debate around Marcus Smith – until in the dramatic final minutes of the third test. in Cape Town when Morné Steyn – not content with breaking the Lions’ heart once in his career in the 2009 series – netted the winning penalty to earn a 2-1 series victory for South Africa.
The Lions documentaries have been the highlight of every tour since 1997 in South Africa, when “It’s your p—— Everest, boys” was delivered by Jim Telfer. Subsequent editions have been compelling if not equally good, with 2009 (what about the Lions in South Africa) also particularly impressive. Even the chestiest member of your local rugby club will no doubt have cried at the sight of the great Sir Ian McGeechan collapsing before his final test in charge of the Lions and consoled by Graham Rowntree.
There’s a folklore in those moments that you can’t quite manufacture. Not that it’s about emotion with these documentaries. Levity is hugely welcome, whether it’s Keith Wood in a wig holding a visiting court and later shaving McGeechan’s hair in 1997, or Simon Zebo in 2013 being set up to phone Rob Penney, then Munster’s director of rugby , to convince him that he should captain Munster next season with the rest of the silent squad huddled around doing their best not to burst into hysterics.
Naturally, given that the 2021 Lions have been locked in bio-secure bubbles to limit their exposure to Covid-19 in South Africa, there isn’t exactly room in “Two Sides” for a lot of laughs, aside from Duhan van der Merwe’s joke that there’s “no f—— way I play 13” despite the fact that the Lions backline is actually written on the back of the packet of cigarettes before a game against the Sharks due to several players being identified as close contacts.
With a twist on the usual format, focusing as the title suggests on both sides this time around, the Lions documentary gets a breath of fresh air. There are interviews at the family home of as many Springboks as Lions players. We see what it means to see a son star in a Lions series, while the features with Stuart Hogg, Springbok No 8 parents Jasper Wiese and Lions wing family Josh Adams are all particularly poignant. Adams was selected for the tour while his partner, Georgia, was heavily pregnant with their first child, which ends up being a compelling storyline across all three episodes.
A year can sometimes soften the reactions and it is good to remind the day after the series how much the rugby itself has been criticized for being a bit lackluster. Watching the match action again seems secondary to the insight gained in the locker room seeing how Warren Gatland and his coaches on one side versus Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber on the other hand to motivate their teams. But the main interest is to see how close the tour came to going up in smoke in the weeks leading up to the start of the Test series, particularly when South Africa were forced to cancel their second match of warm-up against Georgia – just his second test since winning. World Cup – when the Springboks had 26 positive cases in their camp.
It still seems surprising that the tour took place given the combination of the pandemic with the civil unrest in South Africa at the time following the imprisonment of former President Jacob Zuma. Instead of swathes of red shirts with touring Lions supporters taking over Cape Town, you had red stickers on Springbok hotel room doors indicating which members of the squad had tested positive. But, as South Africa Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux made clear, canceling the tour would have meant the financial ruin and collapse of SA Rugby, with the series continuing also offering the whole nation a reprieve. temporary. “Things are not good in South Africa, but if you do well, things are good in South Africa,” Nienaber once told the Springboks.
Inevitably, the Erasmus complaints video is well covered, with him insisting the leak was an accident (although you can judge for yourself). “Lions, South Africans, family members think you did it on purpose… f—, you know,” he admits in one piece on camera. “If you don’t win this, what will South Africa look like, the Springboks? How do you solve this by not winning? Only winning can solve this problem.” There could arguably be more coverage of the resulting spinoffs, but then who wants to dredge up this sad episode again.
With Rassiegate and Alun Wyn Jones’ impression of Lazarusthere is more than enough meat for the producers to chew on.
Given all the off-field bustle and well-done background segments, this will make for a gripping few hours for non-rugby devotees as much as fans who bit their nails last summer. “The legacy continues. The detail gets lost, I promise. The story remains,” Erasmus remarks late. The 2021 story may not be higher than 1997, but it’s right up there.
- “Two Sides,” produced by Whisper and T+W, premieres Sunday, June 19 (10:20 p.m. BST); Monday, June 20 (10:45 p.m.); and Tuesday June 21 (10:45 p.m.) on ITV1