Lions Tour documentary review: Two Sides takes stale concept into the professional era

Unlike any other for the Lions tour, this is a documentary that is suitably unique.

For starters, it’s not the usual feature-length one-and-done documentary that has followed past tours—starting with an excellent stay with the Lions chronicling the 1997 tour. Instead, it takes the form of a three-parter.

In South Africa, those three episodes aired weekly. When it airs on ITV starting Sunday nights, it will air nightly – over three consecutive nights.

Read more:Lions Tour 2021 documentary to air in UK later this week

The other novelty for the series is that, as the title of Two Sides suggests, it is pulling back the curtain not only on the tourists, but on the hosts as well. For the first time ever, we see Springbok at camp.

And, while the series doesn’t have the same humor as the earlier documentaries, the decision to see both sides alone breathes life into a concept that had become a bit stale in its recent outing. With the drama unfolding due to the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19, the format is interesting, if a little different, to watch.

If the original documentary was born from the amateur era, after which it was simply trying to recapture that magic, then it certainly feels like a first properly tailored for the professional era.

There is no clip of a kangaroo court or a drinking session. Instead, there are high-stakes moments with genuine intensity and family characteristics that only serve to illuminate the sacrifices the Lions make on the tour.

“We’re going to win the f*****g Tour,” Warren Gatland says excitedly before the Tour begins. “The challenge is about us coming out physically, about us looking for those kinds of challenges, about our expectations about winning the series in this team.”

Josh Adams has good excerpts from partner and Liam Williams with family and friends, the former detailing the birth of daughter Lottie which became a storyline throughout the tour. The latter is combined with an interview with the mother of Springbok center Lukhanyo M, showcasing the various paths the two have taken to the top.

However, perhaps the most revealing part of the first episode is how close the plug was being pulled throughout the tour.

With Covid torn through his squad, Rugby director Rasi Erasmus said at one point the players and management had a meeting with SA Rugby CEO Juri Roux, where they felt they could not go ahead with the tour .

“Then we basically gave up,” Erasmus says. “I called the players together and said: ‘Guys, I’ll call these guys and say the tour is off… if we have to stay here again and miss the SA A game. We’ll basically play a match’ Against Georgia.

“I’m going to call the jury now and ask him, because we can’t do it man. We’re playing in two days’ time.”

A horrific Zoom call between the Lions and Springbok management over the future of the tour has little insight, with Gatland revealing that “he (Ropes) was saying his players were going to drop out of the squad”.

Obviously, a resolution was found, but it’s fascinating to see how dramatic some of these moments were. So also the effect of positive covid tests in the camp.

While it certainly seemed dramatic last year with players dropping out of the squad at the last minute, the reality of the situation in the camp wasn’t always shining through. It does here, especially with Boxes.

We take a closer look at what the quarantine in his rooms looked like in the weeks leading up to his biggest Test series in more than a decade. Assistant coach Majwandile Stick calls it “the closest thing”. [to] to be in jail”.

The first episode builds on the Lions’ grievous defeat to South Africa ‘A’, made up largely of Springbok stars. Of course, this is the game that has set up the Test series well and the good, little moments from the dressing room do the talking that signal what’s to come.

“Boys, they a**t are scared,” declares Erasmus.

At the Lions Huddle, stand-in captain Conor Murray gives his impassioned speech. “If we f*****g attack them in the first 10 minutes, they’ll f*****g away, yes? They won’t want to f*****g know about it.

“We f*****g get violent in that f*****g breakdown.”

The ending of the first episode is reminiscent of a Bond movie. Tour captain Alun Wayne Jones was shot at a lone Jones with one of his good hands with his head down on a lone Jones after seeing a broken man after suffering an injury at the end of the tour against Japan, requesting to be left alone. The episode ends with news reports of his shocking recovery.

And then, a simple shot of Wells Locke giving a grin. Not a bad way to end an episode.

With the return of Jones and Racigate, there’s more than enough for this documentary to bring your teeth into episodes two and three.

  • “Two Sides,” produced by Whisper and T+W, will be shown Sunday 19 June (10.20pm BST); Monday June 20 (10.45 pm); and Tuesday 21 June (10.45 pm) on ITV1

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