A mountain to climb
The Lions have it all to do in Pretoria after their Durban defeat, says Phil Edwards, but there are some positives.
Last Updated: 21/06/09 7:04pm
As I'm sure you'll remember the Lions were rather hoping South Africa would be under-cooked going in to the first test in Durban. As it turned out, the only thing remotely raw about the Springboks was the aggression they displayed at scrum time.
Phil Vickery has dished it out to various loose-heads over the years, but found himself well and truly on the receiving end at Kings Park on Saturday. Given a torrid time of it by Tendai "The Beast" Mtawaria, England's 2007 World Cup captain trooped off to the tunnel (and who knows where besides in terms of international rugby) just five minutes or so into the second half.
Some were saying afterwards that he ought to have been replaced a lot earlier in the match, and it was hard to disagree with them. Sport at this level can be cruel. Adam Jones steadied the ship when he came on, and will probably be asked to tame the beast once again in Pretoria, along side hooker Matthew Rees.
The trouble was that by that stage of the match the Lions were a distant second on the scoreboard, and although they played by far the better rugby on the front foot, and scored more tries than South Africa, they just failed to produce what would surely have been the biggest come-back since France versus New Zealand at Twickenham in 1999.
Having gone one-nil down in the series, the Lions have a mountain to climb in more ways than one. They now face the prospect of having to win, way up on the high veldt, in the bear-pit that is Loftus Versfeld. This place has been voted the most intimidating rugby venue in the world. It is even worse than some rough old grounds in the Forest of Dean, not to mention Rodney Parade in the old days.
It is the place where large men with dubious facial hair scream (in Afrikaans) for the destruction and utter humiliation of their country's opponents. South Africa's win rate there is 71%, the same as it is at the seemingly impregnable Ellis Park. So, nothing to worry about over the next fortnight then.
On the other hand, there were plenty of positives to take from Durban, not least the fact that by the end of the match, South Africa were well and truly on the ropes. By this stage, John Smit and Ruan Pienaar, both of whom had been replaced, were summoned back from the bench, by fair means or foul, to help keep the rampaging tourists at bay.
The Lions must, and will, avoid any thoughts that the series has already slipped through their fingers like grains of sand. They know the Springboks will be a better outfit next Saturday having had a game under their belts, but they should also be brimming with self-belief after producing some scintillating rugby.
The Lions will also know that they can, once again, expect a fabulous level of support from fans, most of whom have jetted in from all corners of the UK and Ireland. I say most, because some have driven to South Africa. I met four intrepid lads in a beaten-up old Landrover who bounced and lurched their way to Durban from Malawi. Before you ask, that's four and a half thousand miles (they did get a bit lost at times) which is legendary dedication to a Lions tour as I'm sure you'll agree. What is even more impressive is that only three of them drive. As I write this, they're probably about half way into the marathon 20 hour drive from Durban down to Cape Town for Wednesday's match against the Emerging Springboks. This, to them, is the equivalent of the rest of us popping to the corner shop for a bottle of milk.
Anyhow, we are already in Cape Town having taken the wusses' option and flown here on a Boeing 737. This evening we have all been invited to a knees-up by one of the tour sponsors at The Vineyard, an extravagantly luxurious hotel close to Newlands. We just hope we have more luck reaching the place than one of our colleagues who was staying there in the week of the Western Province match.
After a long and tiring day (if you see what I mean) he emerged from a nightclub in the city centre, flopped in to the back of a cab, and gave the name of his hotel before passing out. An hour later he was woken up by the cab driver in the famous wine-producing town of Stellenbosch and asked: "Which of the vineyards here do you want mate?"