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Lion Croft comes face to face with the real thing

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British & Irish Lion Tom Croft came face to face with the real thing as the players enjoyed some rest and relaxation during the Test series with South Africa.

Members of the Lions touring party, including Leicester Tigers players Croft and Harry Ellis, went on safari in the Entabeni Game Reserve north of Johannesburg after Saturday’s second Test in Pretoria.

And during the trip Croft, the first Tigers Academy graduate to win a Lions Test cap, jumped at the chance to get up close and personal with a real lion.

He said: “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! 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 is really special that they let us go in with the lion.

“It was a bit scary but it’s 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 away.

“Me and that Lion have a special bond now!”

Croft added: "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 that it’s 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 dear and the backside of the elusive lion!”