The 48-year-old Andrews – the first Springbok to reach 50 Test caps, in 1999 against Wales at Wembley in London – started in the first two Tests against the Lions in 1997, but missed out on the third and final encounter due to injury.
Former Springbok wing Carel du Plessis had just taken over as head coach and South Africa lost both matches – by 25-16 in Cape Town and 18-15 in Durban – which handed the tourists the series title in what Andrews describes as the “saddest” part of an otherwise illustrious career.
Speaking to the SA Rugby Podcast, Andrews said the 1997 tour was an “unhappy” time in his rugby career, but he is very excited about next year’s visit of the British & Irish Lions, especially since the Springboks have shown in Japan last year what they are capable of.
“It’s always a phenomenal series against the British & Irish Lions – it’s probably second only to a World Cup,” said Andrews, a member of the 1995 RWC-winning Springbok squad.
“For a spectator it’s phenomenal. You’ve got those crazy Lions fans coming out here, and they will give it everything – the stadiums are packed and there is a huge amount of vibe and atmosphere.
“Looking ahead to next year, I hope the pandemic can blow over. If there is one series that I think is even bigger than a series between the Springboks and the All Blacks, it’s between the Springboks and the British & Irish Lions.
“At this stage, it’s difficult to know who will be available and in form next year? But I would like to think that the guys will know what it will take to win and that we will have a core of players from last year’s World Cup win who will be guiding our side next year.
“I just hope that culture and ethos of what it takes to be a successful Springbok is instilled in the players next year, and if that is the case, I’m sure it will be a great series.”
Looking back at 1997, when the British & Irish Lions emulated the series win achieved by the great touring side of 1974, Andrews admits it was a tough time in his illustrious career.
“There is not many things I regret in my career – I was lucky enough to win the World Cup, Tri-Nations, Currie Cup – but one of my saddest moments was the 1997 Lions tour,” said Andrews.
“SARU had appointed two legends – players who were my heroes when I was younger – to coach the Springboks, in Carel and Gert Smal. It wasn’t a happy time for me or for South African rugby supporters.
“Losing to the Lions was frustrating to me, because in my opinion that wasn’t the best side to come here, but we were in such turmoil as a team – we should have won convincingly. It became a very unhappy period in my life, and I regret it.”
The first six podcasts – also available on available on Soundcloud, Spotify and Apple Podcasts, - feature Rassie Erasmus; Branco du Preez, Aled Walters and Jacques Nienaber; Cheslin Kolbe and Handre Pollard; Bongi Mbonambi, Malcolm Marx and Schalk Brits; Joel Stransky; and Jurie Roux, and can be accessed here.