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McGeechan’s Men Meet Some Real Lions

McGeechan’s Men Meet Some Real Lions

Members of the British & Irish Lions touring party went to Entabeni Game Reserve in the Waterburg area of the Limpopo Province north of Johannesburg, enjoying some rest and relaxation after the second Test defeat in Pretoria.

The Lions players, including a healthy Irish contingent, enjoyed being up close and personal with nature on a two-day safari break.

Some of the squad members, including Ireland’s Luke Fitzgerald and Jamie Heaslip, were afforded the chance to join some real-life lions in an enclosure with the assistance of the reserve’s animal handlers.

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Speaking of the safari experience, Heaslip’s back row colleague Tom Croft said: “I have never been on safari before and it was a great opportunity to see animals in the wild.

“It was brilliant driving out of the lodge and to see a giraffe standing there in front of you, it takes you back, you almost think it is staged and it is hard to realise it is in the real and in the wild.

“The whole experience, the landscape and seeing the animals is something you don’t experience that often.

“On Monday we went on an early game drive, jumped in the truck, grabbed a blanket and were driven round.

“We saw all sorts of animals, the hippos in the water, elephants, warthogs, zebras, a hell of lot of impala and deer and the backside of the elusive lion!”

As a Leicester ‘Tiger’, Croft also spoke about the ‘special’ experience of bonding with a lion. 

“The guy just asked us if we wanted to jump in with the lion and we said yes. I just thought it’s like a big cat really!

“So I got in with the lion and found out it was a bit more than a big cat, it was very strong. In England you’d never be able to do that, so it was really special that they let us go in with the lion.

“It was a bit scary but like the way you approach a horse, if you show fear it would probably try and swipe your head off but you just had to bat it way and me and that lion have a special bond now.”

Croft’s England team-mate Ugo Monye, who will be hoping to force his way back into the matchday squad for the third Test, was also thrilled to get some personal time with the animals.

“The safari was amazing, to actually see the elephants and the lions up close and then right at the end to actually get in the cage with the lion was one of the best moments of the tour,” he said.

“I think I would be talking it up if I said I was wrestling with a lion but I patted him a couple of times. To be in a cage with a lion was awesome and the guy that looked after the lion said something very memorable.

“He felt it was important for us to get into the cage with the lion to understand the name ‘lion’ and what we are representing and when you see the beauty and the actual power of the lion it really does blow your mind.

“The lion was only 18 months old but it was enormous, it was powerful, fairly scary but an experience that I’ll remember for a long time,” added the Harlequins winger.

Jamie Roberts, the Cardiff Blues and Wales centre, also gave his thoughts on being out in the wilds of South Africa.

“The safari was thoroughly enjoyable and it was great to relax and the night around the camp fire was one of the best nights of the tour,” he said.

“The safari spoke for itself, to see all the animals in the wild was amazing and it was an experience of a lifetime going into the cage with a lion.”