Substitute Riki Flutey says he was always confident of a Lions victory in their tour opener in Phokeng.
The tourists beat the Royal XV 37-25, but were staring defeat squarely in the face with 15 minutes remaining and 12 points down. At that point Ian McGeechan brought on five replacements, and eventually the difference in class showed.
Flutey acknowledged it was an interesting challenge coming off the bench as opposed to starting, but he knew he and his fellow subs would rescue the team.
‘Running onto the pitch looking up at that scoreboard wasn’t great and it could’ve been a pretty nasty shock,’ Flutey told keo.co.za. ‘The boys seemed pretty knackered and we knew we had to show what we’re about. Other teams may not have come back from that, but we did.
‘I haven’t come off the bench for two years. The preparation and focus was very different all week, but when we got on we all knew exactly what we had to do. We had to make a meaningful impact and that’s what makes the Lions – the character.’
Flutey historically became the second individual to play for and against the Lions and he said the entire day was an emotional rollercoaster.
‘When Gerald [Davies] presented the jersey in the morning it all sunk in,’ said the former Wellington centre. ‘I realised the massive tradition and a sense of pride and privilege came over me. It was nice to just get on.’
From a team perspective Flutey said the group would have to improve as they face sterner competition in the Lions and Cheetahs in the next week.
‘It was a beautiful day and maybe we got carried away with the offloads. We needed patience and faith in the game-plan. We should always get good go-forward ball with our pack and we must just put the phases together.
‘We are building to Test time and once we get past five phases, we know we’ve got teams.’
Flutey slotted into the midfield with the hulkish Jamie Roberts, who broke tackles for the full 80 minutes. Although the pair are vying for the No 12 jersey, Flutey acknowledged the impact of the Welshman.
‘It was great to play alongside him and he made things easier. He’s a big boy who gets over the gain-line and always offloads.’
By Grant Ball, at Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace