Former South Africa winger Bryan Habana, a key part of the Springbok side that notched up a thrilling series win over the British and Irish Lions in 2009, said next year's tour will have an extra edge to it due to Warren Gatland's impressive record at the helm of the invitational side.
Confident Lions side expected to land in South Africa
Gatland takes charge of the Lions in 13 months' time after having led the touring side to wins over Australia in 2013 and a draw in New Zealand four years later.
"It's going to be massive. Twelve years on we're in a fortunate position as South Africa as we go into it again not only as the world champions like in 1997 and 2009 but we go into it as previous series champions," Habana told AFP in an interview.
"What is going to add an incredible amount of spice to this specific tour, bar the fact that South Africa are world champions, is that Warren Gatland is vying to be the first Lions coach to have not lost a series in the three southern hemisphere countries," added Habana, who has helped launch the MatchKit application since ending his playing career.Bryan Habana
Habana, who scored a sensational try in the second Test as the Springboks won the series 2-1 in 2009, said the Lions' visit to the Rainbow Nation is about more than just the sport on the field despite next year's schedule being two games shorter than the previous one to South Africa.
"I know in 2009 the Lions did an incredible amount of work in the townships in South Africa in giving back, in donating, not only clothing and kit but building fields and training sessions with under-privileged," he said.
"It's an eight-week tour that has been cut down to six or seven now, it's that experience in its totality that rugby doesn't have."Bryan Habana
'Difficult' for Du Toit
The Webb Ellis trophy holders are likely to have loose forward and World Player of the Year Pieter-Steph Du Toit and hooker Malcolm Marx available for the trio of matches held in Johannesburg and Cape Town.
The pair were at the centre of controversy last month as South Africa Rugby gave their players an option to look for contracts abroad having enforced a salary cut of up to 43% due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Marx has chosen to sign for the Kubota Spears in Japan rather than renew his deal to keep him at Johannesburg's franchise the Lions.
Du Toit agreed to remain with the Stormers in the Western Province despite a reported offer of 3.95 million euros ($4.44 million) over three years from French club Montpellier.
Habana, who left the Bulls for the Stormers in 2009 before five seasons with Toulon, sympathised with both of them.
"It's difficult for any player to be in a position like that. First and foremost you're going to be judged on whatever decision you make," Habana said.
"Not many top-class players actually made the decision to go overseas and Pieter-Steph's name got thrown around quite a bit and you hope at some point he will be able to maximise on the opportunities that are both financially and commercially.
"I think he's a quality enough player to get some great value out of his rugby playing ability in a few years with the Lions next year which will be the goalpost he has moved towards in making the decision on where to go," he added.Bryan Habana
© Agence France-Presse by Illtud Dafydd