Lions butter up Boks

Ian McGeechan and Paul O’Connell praised the Springboks relentlessly at the British & Irish Lions welcome conference in Johannesburg on Monday.

The 1997 Lions came to South Africa as underdogs. The local public didn’t believe their team could lose, and the tourists kept relatively mum about their prospects. The result? A 2-1 series win to the Lions. A repeat? It’s not impossible.

Both O’Connell and McGeechan smiled at each question regarding the Boks and replied with a flowery statement that’s sure to fuel the public belief. Whether that will translate into Springbok overconfidence remains to be seen.

‘That Super 14 semi-final was absolutely brilliant,’ said McGeechan, highlighting the efficiency of the Bulls. ‘I’m sure Peter de Villiers is a very happy man. A lot of the key players are hitting form at exactly the right time.

‘The four drop-goals [by Morne Steyn] is not a bad way to put you on the front foot, is it? South Africa has players in form and they have a settled side. The rugby in this country is in great shape.

‘They have a team that’s come through a World Cup and established themselves as a force thereafter. They have a very good captain and a very good coaching team.’

O’Connell refused to expand on the move of John Smit to tighthead prop believing it’ll do little to weaken the Bok scrum.

‘Smit is a very special player and I can’t see it being a problem. They have to include Bismarck du Plessis in there, and I suppose it helps to have plenty of front row options.’

McGeechan said the touring party arrived in Johannesburg on Monday morning to a warm reception. After 12 long years, the waiting is over and Bok and Lions supporters alike are clearly excited.

‘I was surprised to see so many people at the airport. I’ve been on tours to South Africa as a coach and a player so I know that rugby is No 1 in this country.

‘We have to become a part of that in the next seven weeks. We have to become a part of South African rugby.’

By Jon Cardinelli, in Johannesburg