Gary Gold scoffed at suggestions that the Boks are clear favourites to win the Lions series.
The Lions arrived in 1997 with the underdog tag and as soon as they got to South Africa on Monday, Ian McGeechan and co were quick to assume that status once more. It worked for them before and praising everything about the Boks and South Africa has been their approach again.
The world champion Boks have the better squad in terms of playing personnel, but the Springbok forwards coach was quick to try and rid the hosts of the favourites’ tag. Gold highlighted the tense nature of a Lions series as a great leveler.
‘The Lions will try put that line out - that they are underdogs - but I don’t buy it,’ said Gold. ‘They are combining four strong nations and that is a different threat to what we’ve faced before.’
Wales were the only country to topple a southern hemisphere giant (Australia) last year with the Boks winning three out of three in Britain. Gold was quick to point out how various factors will mean this counts for nothing come the series opener on 20 June.
‘During those November internationals we didn’t play Ireland and they will strengthen the Lions. Against England we did well, but both Scotland and Wales pushed us.
‘You hear guys such as Lawrence Dallaglio and Matt Dawson saying 1997 was arguably bigger than their World Cup win, and then you realise what it means to the Lions. When they get together the Lions shouldn’t go anywhere as underdogs.
‘That will be their favoured line, but we are not expecting to just turn up and win. There will be no complacency from our side.’
Gold mentioned how the change of laws will also have an effect on the series. Backline coach Dick Muir reiterated the point and noted how the Boks will have to change their approach with the return of the maul as well as penalties for most offences.
‘It will be very different from the Super 14,’ said Muir. ‘The pace of the game will slow down with less free-kicks. The return of the maul will also bring a change of pace, while the breakdown will be a big challenge and we will have to keep our discipline.’
Since the 2007 World Cup the Boks haven’t carried the favourites tag well. Last year’s Tri-Nations showed that. The Lions should never be underestimated, but it’s now up to the Boks to embrace being expected to win the series and perform as such.
By Grant Ball, in Pretoria