And with ample reason...
Only once over the course of half a century have the Lions won the opening Test and lost the series. In Australia 20 years ago, the best British and Irish squad of the professional era walloped the Wallabies at The Gabba on such a scale that the damage seemed irreparable.
Brian O’Driscoll having announced himself by making one and scoring another of four dazzling tries, the Lions started again in Melbourne where they had left off in Brisbane seven days later. The Aussies were going from rack to ruin until one careless pass from Jonny Wilkinson invited Joe Roff to begin turning the game upside down.
Nathan Grey’s brutal assault on Richard Hill left England’s three-dimensional back row forward with a broken jaw and the Lions went to pieces all over the place. Instead of wrapping up the series, they fell victims of a 35-point swing, from winning 29-13 to losing 16-35 and, with it, the series.
Nobody of a Lions persuasion ought to be one bit surprised at the Springbok capacity for picking themselves off the canvas. They effected a 35-point swing in successive home Tests against England seven years before the Lions suffered the same fate.
Francois Pienaar’s team lost the first one by a record margin 32-15, a humiliation felt all the more because it happened at the most sacred of all Springbok rugby shrines: Loftus Versveld in Pretoria. The Boks made six changes for the return in Cape Town and paid England back for the thrashing they had given them by dishing out an even bigger one: 27-9.
Despite that, they sacked their coach, Ian McIntosh, replaced him with the late Kitch Christie, and barely six months later they won the World Cup. The Lions will know what’s coming…