The British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa couldn’t have come soon enough.
Less is more.
And that is why the visit of the British & Irish Lions to our country in the next month will be incredible.
The Springboks will win, but the appeal of the tourists is not just in their results. They represent a tour and a book of memories instead of the one lined Tri-Nations paragraphs of the last decade.
There is no mystique around the All Blacks in South Africa anymore. They play the Springboks three times a year and it is three times too many. These teams should be playing every second year – one in New Zealand and one in South Africa, alternatively they should be touring each other’s country every second year, so as a host you’d only get to view the visiting magicians every four years.
It isn’t likely to happen with Super rugby and Tri-Nations’ expansion meaning South Africans are lumped with Kiwis and Aussies from February to the first week of September. We may as well be one rugby nation so familiar have Australia, New Zealand and South Africa become with each other.
The Lions, here once every 12 years, have the mystique. Part of the intrigue is to see if four cultures can become one in a month. There is mystery about the Lions for god’s sake and rugby needs mystery and not repetition.
Percy Montgomery, the first Springbok to play 100 Tests, fronted the All Blacks 19 times and visited New Zealand 22 times in Super Rugby and the Tri Nations. But he only played the Lions twice in the first fortnight of his Test career and if he could have pushed his legs for one more Test series it would have been this one. He refused to even consider it because of his respect for the occasion and the tradition of a Lions visit to this country. Nothing but being at your best is good enough to bear the Lions, Montgomery told me, and he knew his best had gone.
Montgomery settled for second prize, which was a place on the Bok management for the series as kicking consultant. When I spoke to him at the weekend he was as psyched as he was when he made his Test debut against the Lions in 1997.
‘As you get older you realize there are some Tests that are bigger than others and nowadays the only thing bigger than the World Cup is a Lions Test series.’
Those thinking the Springboks will underestimate the Lions are mistaking the expectation of a home victory with the assumption it will be one. The players and coaches know the Boks will have to play well to win, something I have no doubt they will do.
There is respect for the tradition of the British & Irish Lions and there is affection for the richness of the red of the Lions playing jersey.
Losing to the Lions in 1997 hurt South Africans far more than any Test defeat to the All Blacks or Wallabies because there wasn’t next week to right any wrongs.
The Super 14 final this weekend can’t come and go quick enough. The Bulls deservedly will win it and our focus can turn to a global rugby occasion and not the incestuous South African versus New Zealand match-up for what seems like the 50th time this year.
The Lions, unlike New Zealand rugby, are unknown, which is why so many South African supporters are nervous about the result.
Nervous is good because it dulls arrogance, but the nervousness also shows how South Africa’s rugby support base struggles to cope with the expectation of winning.
It is easier to have bravado when the world expects you to lose, as most pessimistic South Africans do every time the Boks play the All Blacks. But when your team is expected to win, as the Boks are against the Lions, the chances of player error and subsequent supporter embarrassment are so much more.
If every Bok player has Montgomery’s attitude then the confidence of a Bok win is not misplaced.
And if Bok coach Peter de Villiers applies logic to his selection and picks Morne Steyn at flyhalf and a specialist fullback then there won’t be vulnerability in the Bok starting XV.
A week ago I wrote the Bulls would hammer the Crusaders at Loftus and a month ago I wrote the Boks would beat the Lions 3-0. All that’s changed is that one’s already in the bag.