Springboks legend, Brian Habana, paid tribute to fellow co-worker winger Louis Reese Zammit for setting him up to stardom at such a young age.
Habana feels the 20-year-old has come in full swing over the past season and totally deserves to be picked for Lions tour in South Africa.
“Lewis’ rise to stardom at such a young age is fantastic,” said the man, who scored 67 attempts during his 124-game test career.
“He’s someone you can see who has put in a lot of work in different aspects of his game over the last 18 months.
“The marked improvement in every aspect of his game is clearly visible, not just his scoring ability, but in his stats we all see.
“Being the youngest player on the tour and carrying that big lion, and making sure none of the players steal, is a huge honor.
“It is something he will want to learn from and go to South Africa and prove that his choice was worthy.
“It has come in full swing since last year’s Autumn Nations Cup.
“He did really well in the Six Nations and it was a right choice. May his rise to stardom continue for a long time.”
Habana expects a tight Test streak, but sees his countrymen outsmart Warren Gatland’s lions in the end.
“I would actually like it to be 1-1 going to the third test, just to create the extra hype,” he said.
There is a lot at stake. It would be massive for players representing both sides.
“We will see the fitness and the players will leave everything on the field. It will be a huge occasion.
“I know the Lions will want to come to South Africa like the team in 1997 and do something amazing by beating the world champions.
“It would really add an extra lane streak.
“I also know that the South African players are the ones who lead the tournament. They haven’t played together since the World Cup final in November 2019.
“They didn’t have any international exposure. They weren’t part of the Rugby tournament last year, and they weren’t part of Super Rugby over the last year either.
“But I know the Springbok players are very excited to be back on the international stage and show their worth.
“So I see them hope they win 2-1 in the series, and take him out in the third.
Habana was a key member of a South African team that only triumphed by this margin in 2009.
“As a player, lions are very unique and very rare,” he said.
“He comes to us every 12 years. There are some Test captains who never get the chance to play against the Lions.
“So having the privilege of having this opportunity in my career and going forward and winning this series has been epic.
“I will never forget running into Kings Park and Loftus Versfeld on the first two Tests – a land synonymous with rugby in South Africa – and seeing this absolute sea of red and having to push yourself to understand where you are.
“To know that you usually see South African flags, green jerseys. Then, as a player, you have to prepare yourself to join a team that has had the same amount of support as what you have in your own backyard.
“It was very intense. The second test at Loftus in 2009 was by far one of the most combative physical games I have been in. It was a huge spectacle.”
That match was decided by Morne Stein’s long-range penalty streak after Ronan O’Jara collided with an airborne Forrey de Prez.
“The lions were really cool that day. They were physically able to and we had to make our way back in,” Habana said.
“Injuries played a huge role in how this game turned out.
“Coming out on a winning streak was really special and the way it happened with Morne Stein’s 56m penalty in the 82nd minute of the second test. It made for a very curious watch.
“Obviously Ronan took out Fury and I was the one who caught the ball and ran in the whole team, but the penalty kick wasn’t granted.
“I was at Lions 22 and was about to score, so I raised my hand in the air!
“The way this picture was missed was disappointing for Lions, but it added to a wonderful and very memorable streak.”
It’s not just events on the field that counted in 2009, Habana says.
“What happens on the field is very important and interesting, but what a lot of people are missing is the legacy that the lions left,” he said.
In 2009, they went to rural communities, built rugby fields, and donated clothing and tools.
“I remember Brian O’Driscoll telling me about this school where they built a rugby field.
“Some of the Lions players had to come in the helicopters because of its location and there were close to 1,000 kids waiting for them and the roar that happened when these guys got off the helicopter was amazing.
“That left a tangible positive moment and I hope these kids take with them for the rest of their lives.
“Yes, we see things on the ground, but you also see the power of sport – especially in a country like South Africa, where we have many challenges – the ability to make a really tangible positive impact in bringing about social change.
“Yes, the series has been great, the challenge on the field has been formidable, but the legacy that remains is just something so much stronger than the rugby of which we are all so grateful to be a part of.
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“It’s sad that Lions players can’t go into the communities and experience that or travel to the different counties in South Africa and the different stadiums. It’s all in bubbles now.
“It is sad that players will not have the experience of traveling fans and we will not have fans in stadiums.
“But I am grateful for the Tour because I know South Africa needs it.
If not, he would have been put off by four years because he couldn’t fit anywhere in the current rugby calendar.
“So we really needed the Lions Tour going forward.
“At least getting some international exposure is decent and hopefully the field shows will give a string of superior performances.”
*Brian Habana was speaking at a Pre-Black Tour event to highlight the campaign against HIV, and the power that sport and physical activity have to create positive social change for individuals and communities.
* Tackling HIV, a campaign led by Gareth Thomas in partnership with ViiV Healthcare and the Terrence Higgins Trust, aims to tackle the stigma and misunderstanding around HIV. For more information, please visit www.tacklehiv.org and follow @tacklehiv