“Upon what meat doth this our Caesar feed that he is grown so great?” ― William Shakespeare.
The British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa is but a few months away, scribes and pundits are already beginning to debate, argue, and select their picks for their respective teams starting XVs for the first Test and the eventual result of the series.
However, while the European leagues and cup competitions have continued uninhibited (to an extent), the worry for the Springboks brains trust will be the lack of game time the Springboks (collectively) have had in gathering momentum for the Lions tour. Although you’d never say so reading some of the bullish articles coming out of South Africa.
There is a sweeping and prevailing wind of assuredness or cockiness from some of South Africa’s most respected rugby scribes that the Lions will lose the series 3 nil, especially with the possibility that they will be without their travelling horde of red-clad vociferous fans.
Scribes have also pointed out the lack of progress and result’s from the home nations during the 2019 World Cup and on their current form during the Six Nations tournament this year. While these points may have some validity in assessing and gauging the make-up of the Lions team, to use them as cornerstones for a prediction of total domination from Springboks is foolhardy, errant, and ultimately arrogant.
That arrogance is something we as South Africans are not accustomed to and do not subscribe to, we are not a nation of trash talkers before major sporting events, quite frankly we do not how to even if we wanted to.
The Springboks have produced their most remarkable results when they have been written off, the underdog tag is something that fits comfortably with us, it always has. The motivation it provides has been used on many occasions when the Springboks haven’t been given a snowball’s chance in hell at securing a result.
Being written off for the 2019 Rugby World Cup final made it a personal issue with the Boks regarding the English player’s media attempts to meet the Boks challenge at the coal face, England’s defence coach John Mitchell said as much after the final.
The Lions have been installed as the bookie’s favourites and are predicted to win the series in South Africa, and will certainly be looking to win the series for the first time since 1997.
The Boks haven’t played a Test match since the final in 2019 in Japan and while key players are performing superbly well at home, in Europe and Japan for their respective clubs, that will not necessarily translate into immediate success when they run out against the Lions.
The home unions have been battle-hardened during their Test matches in both Six Nations and Autumn Cup in the lead up to this year’s series, whereas the Boks will be well short of game time. Both teams will play warm-up fixtures, but I can’t help but feel that the Lions will be better prepared for the series.
The Boks still have injury concerns none more so than the availability to star flyhalf Handre Pollard who is recovering from a serious knee injury.
Unlike the Boks forwards stocks which are packed to the rafters, the flyhalf position stocks will keep Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber up until the late hours of the night. The Lions will also have the added motivation of exacting some of their own revenge on the current World Champions, as such the Boks have a major target on their back and likely won’t be able to use the underdog tag for the upcoming tour.
Much has also been made of Warren Gatland’s season at the Chiefs in New Zealand last season whereby they equaled their club record for consecutive losses under his tutelage, however, it would be naïve to look at that as a gauge for how the Lions will fare in South Africa.
Gatland is in charge of his third Lions tour with a rather enviable record, he has overseen the last two previous Lions series (win in Australia 2013, drawn in New Zealand 2017).
While the home nations may have somewhat flattered to deceive during the past Six Nations, you best believe when Gatland assembles his squad they will be more than prepared and mentally frothing at the thought of taking on the Springboks and a shot at immortality.
What we as Springbok fans should be acutely aware of is providing the Lions with extra ammunition through the news articles published about a series whitewash and the like.
Remember the English press wrote similar articles in the lead up to the 2019 final – and we all know how that ended…
If I was Gatland I would be printing various articles in the Lions change rooms before the series kick-off, telling them this is what they think of you, South Africa doesn’t rate you.
Let us hope the Boks fly under the radar with humility and as Shakespeare alluded to, I hope the meat will be on a braai hopefully after a series victory as opposed to chocking on it with a series loss after having been so very sure of a Springbok victory.