Two Sides gets underneath the skin of heated Boks-Lions series
To give some scope of the tour by the British and Irish Lions to South Africa last year, consider that the professional game would likely have collapsed domestically had the plug been pulled on the great adventure. This was a distinct possibility given the raging pandemic and, possibly worse, the civil unrest that broke out during the Lions’ visit.
This stark reality is brought back to life in the dramatic new three-part SuperSport documentary, “Two Sides”, which goes behind the scenes during one of the most controversial tours in history.
There was drama around and within the tour as Warren Gatland, the Lions coach, and Rassie Erasmus, the Springboks’ director of rugby, snapped and snarled at one another from shortly before the opening Test. It was a rancour that set the scene for an apocalyptic series.”It’s not about hiding from the challenge, it’s about embracing the challenge,” Gatland tells his team, who respond magnificently.
Jurie Roux, the chief executive of SA Rugby, had other things to worry about. As he puts it in the documentary, SA rugby would not be a going concern if the tour was cancelled, an idea that was seriously flirted with.
The documentary, narrated by Irish actor Aidan Kelly, is unique in that it is the first time a tour story has been told through both sets of eyes. Production took place in South Africa as well as the UK and Ireland, and broadcast teams were embedded in both sides ensuring both balance and a stark contrast. The changerooms after the first Test, which the Boks lost, offer one powerful such example: unbridled joy in the one; shattering disappointment in the other.
“Chasing the Dream”, which was made by the same filmmakers, was among the first such projects to break into the Springboks’ private space. It is a realm that remains largely sacred, but many intimate moments are revealed, some funny, but others raw and brutal, not least Erasmus’ savage evisceration of the team after the first Test defeat.
It’s industrial-level criticism — he spares no one – but it must have worked. The Boks changed course for the two subsequent matches and produced a famous series victory.
The lighter moments reflect what many professional rugby players actually are: boys at heart, full of mischief, banter and passion.
Said Gareth Whitaker, executive producer and director: “I’ve been consistently inspired by this story; both by the men and women it features and the many talented people who contributed to getting it made. It is intense and it is powerful. It is also a world first. To be granted access to the inner circle of these two sides was a great privilege and I am very proud of the story we have told.”
There are many layers to the documentary, which is further elevated by emotive and sharply edited interviews with players’ parents and families. These serve to add context and meaning to an already symbolic and special series, one that some players regard even higher than a World Cup.
The moments shared by Lukhanyo Am’s mother are deeply personal and inspiring, so too the visit to Duhan van der Merwe’s family home where his parents discuss the conflict of being Bok supporters while supporting their son’s Lions dream. We get similar film from Stuart Hogg’s nearest and dearest, one of many remarkable stories within a greater story.
The first episode of this DStv and SuperSport co-production documentary will air on 15 May at 18:00 on M-Net DStv Channel 101, and on the same night on SuperSport Rugby, DStv Channel 211 at 19:00. Episode two will broadcast on 22 May, with the concluding episode on 29 May.