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Bonding over a beer in Jersey will help forge a tight Lions unit for South Africa, says Townsend

Beer we go! Bonding over ale in Jersey will help forge a tight unit for South Africa, says assistant coach Gregor Townsend as Lions seek to invoke spirit of triumphant 1997 tour

  • Assistant coach Gregor Townsend has spoken about the vital bonding process 
  • Players have enjoyed socialising with the blessing of head coach Warren Gatland
  • Prop Zander Fagerson has been ruled out of Saturday’s match against Japan
  • The British and Lions start their Test series against South Africa next month 

The Lions have invoked the spirit of the triumphant tour of South Africa in 1997 with beer bonding sessions in Jersey — and they flew to Edinburgh on Thursday with a collective sense of unity.

Spending 10 days in the Channel Island has had the desired effect of forging a four-nation camaraderie off the field, as well as a degree of on-field cohesion.

Staying true to head coach Warren Gatland’s ethos, the 2021 Lions have enjoyed socialising ahead of the crusade to take on the Springboks — just as their predecessors did on their way to a 2-1 series win 24 years ago.

Lions assistant coach Gregor Townsend has spoken about the vital bonding process

Gregor Townsend was a key player then. Now, the Scotland head coach is Gatland’s senior assistant and he spoke about the vital bonding process. The Lions will face Japan at Murrayfield confident that they are on track to become a tight unit, as they must be to have any chance in three Tests against the world champions.

Recalling the build-up to the 1997 trip, following a nostalgic catch-up with former team-mates, Townsend said: ‘There was a lot of chat about the night we had in the Weybridge pub. It was the night before we left. I still remember sitting with Mark Regan at the bar at two in the morning. I just couldn’t stop laughing, listening to him. That’s how bonds are formed and we’ve seen that with this group so far.

‘That’s what I remember from 1997. Obviously there were a lot of things on the tour itself and once we get on tour there are going to be different stories and different experiences. It will be a very unique tour, given no crowds are going to be there and we’re going to be in a bubble. Those social bonds are going to be even more important this time around.’

Townsend said the Lions have invoked the spirit of the triumphant tour of South Africa in 1997

Townsend said the Lions have invoked the spirit of the triumphant tour of South Africa in 1997

The Jersey gatherings had to take place in more private surroundings — largely within the confines of the Lions base. ‘I think it was called the Team Room pub,’ joked Townsend. ‘We went to a couple of restaurants but it’s been more back at the hotel where we’ve been having those periods together.’

So did the revelry match up to what happened in Weybridge? ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘There were a few things going on that meant there were stories the next day. It was good to see coaches and players chatting together. There were songs being sung. We didn’t do that in 1997.

‘I believe it’s been a big reason for Warren’s success as a coach. He understands that and facilitates that. It was genius coming to Jersey and being able to use a really good training facility, away from distractions at home, being on an island where there are less Covid restrictions, even though we’ve had to stay in a hotel pretty much. It’s been great for bringing people together.’

The players have enjoyed socialising in Jersey with the blessing of coach Warren Gatland

The players have enjoyed socialising in Jersey with the blessing of coach Warren Gatland

The Lions are having a short stop-off in Edinburgh to face Japan before flying to Johannesburg — and arriving into a host country which is in the grip of a third wave of Covid. South African rugby authorities are desperately striving to minimise disruption amid a spike in cases, especially in the Gauteng province — including Johannesburg — where five matches are taking place, including the last two Tests.

There is an awareness among the touring party about the situation that awaits them but they believe they have all the necessary measures in place to be able to function effectively.

Townsend said: ‘We’ve talked a lot about the restrictions and protocols we have had to follow in Jersey. In Scotland, they’re going to be that little bit stricter and we’re aware in South Africa it will be different conditions.

Scottish prop Zander Fagerson has been ruled out of the Lions XV to face Japan on Saturday

Scottish prop Zander Fagerson has been ruled out of the Lions XV to face Japan on Saturday

‘I’m sure our bubble will be much tighter than it has been. We’ll be in hotels on our own. We have been double vaccinated and are following all the protocols. It’s what we must do for what we want to do — play for the Lions and deliver a winning Test series.’

Another Scotland forward has been forced to withdraw from tomorrow’s encounter, as Glasgow prop Zander Fagerson was ruled out after suffering back spasms. His place at tighthead will be taken by Ireland’s Tadhg Furlong, with Kyle Sinckler included among the replacements.

Fagerson’s setback followed the loss of flanker Hamish Watson due to a head injury but Townsend said neither players’ involvement in the tour is in doubt.

Meanwhile, Japan will be led once again by veteran captain Michael Leitch, one of 10 members of their starting XV who played in their last international — a home World Cup quarter-final against South Africa.



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