Mark Regan has warned the British and Irish Lions that they face a huge task in following the class of 1997 that saw victory against South Africa.

Warren Gatland will lead the tourists on an eight-match tour, beginning 3 July against the Stormers in Cape Town.

The tour will also feature four more provincial matches before the three-test series begins in Johannesburg on 24 July.

In 1997, Regan helped the Lions to a 2-1 victory in the series, with the former Bath and Bristol hooker starting the third test at Ellis Park in Johannesburg.

He also faced South Africa for England in the France 2007 World Cup Final when the Springboks won the trophy for the second time.

5 Jul 1997:  Mark Regan of the British Lions (right) celebrates with supporters after the third test match against South Africa at Ellis Park in Johannesburg, South Africa. South Africa won the match 35-16 but the British Lion won the series 2-1.  Mandatory Credit: Alex Livesey /Allsport
5 Jul 1997: Mark Regan of the British Lions (right) celebrates with supporters after the third test match against South Africa at Ellis Park in Johannesburg, South Africa. South Africa won the match 35-16 but the British Lion won the series 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Alex Livesey /Allsport

Mark Regan on what to expect

Regan told The Focus: “It’s the best place to go. Better than anywhere else in the world.

“Playing up on the high veld, it is very tough and uncompromising in the stadiums.

“It is far different from anything else you experience. The way they play their rugby is very tough. They are straight running, strong and committed people.

“You know what you’re going to get. It’s a very simple game. They smashed England up in the World Cup knowing that England weren’t strong enough in the scrum.

“They’re going to get penalties at scrum time, and when they do get those penalties they kick to line-outs, drive the line-out, get a penalty and then three points.

“They outfought, outplayed and outmuscled England and they will certainly play the two tests at altitude like that.”

Regan, who also helped England win the 2003 World Cup, believes the Springboks are unlikely to be in the state of flux that they were when the Lions won in 1997.

Francois Pienaar and Joel Stransky, their two headliners from 1995, had both been phased out of the team. Next year, there will be a very familiar look to the side that triumphed in Japan in 2019.

“I like Eben Etzebeth, he’s hugely established now and Malcolm Marx the hooker is a very good player,” Regan said.

“Their back row is huge. Pieter-Steph Du Toit is a 6’7” monster. Duane Vermeulen is a different type of monster and then you have the captain Siya Kolisi and he combines both those values.

“To a man they are over six feet tall. All six foot one or six foot two, apart from Cheslin Kolbe the winger. He is barely five two, but that bloke is a wizard and a fantastic, fantastic player.

“Even with their wealth of experience and players that Gatland has at his disposal, it still won’t be enough.”

The current uncertainty of when the 2019-20 Premiership and Pro14 seasons will end – let alone how 2020-21 season will take shape – are also reasons why Regan thinks the hosts will triumph.

All down to chance

The tour is five matches shorter than 1997, and unlike then, two of the tests will be played at altitude in Johannesburg with the second test at sea-level in Cape Town.

It means that there will be fewer chances for players to play their way into contention for the test series, with the danger that one major error in a match will likely end a player’s test chances.

“They’re in and out like the SAS,” Regan said. “Each player will have one chance. If you are in the team that loses, that is your tour over.

“It depends what teams turn up against you, the combinations you’re paired with and what the opposition will play like.”

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