If the lions settled down, the springboks weren’t. They featured 33 players, a sign of the panic the Lions caused in them. Only three South Africans played in all four tests.
“I was dropped after the second test and rightly so,” said Du Plessis. âI’ve been everywhere, like a few others. It was a lean time for us and we didn’t know who we are or where we are. We didn’t feel like we should be invincible at home, even though we were proud of our record in South Africa. What surprised us about Lions was that they overwhelmed us. It was a huge wake-up call for our rugby. “
The opening game against West Transvaal set a marker with the Lions winning 59-13.
“I was given an immediate start and that was huge for me as a relative international newbie,” said McGeechan. “I have never forgotten the value of this experience and have included it in my coaching to get new Lions blood as soon as possible.”
Even the tried-and-true troupers, like Edwards, were nervous when they wanted to put their own show on the streets to calm all nerves.
“Of course those of us who were in New Zealand in 1971 had a confidence in us,” said Edwards. âBut the downside was that expectations of you were higher. I was in South Africa in 1968, remember, and I knew how these guys would do anything to defend their territory. But then I would look around our dressing room. Barry (John) had retired, but Phil (Bennett) was there and he was outstanding. Willie John, of course, the front pack that paved the way for us, JJ and then, in the back, JPR. Why shouldn’t you have confidence? “
There were seven games leading up to the first test, time to bet combinations, a crucial exercise. Given that the entire 2021 tour will be just eight games in total, wonder how and why we allowed the Lions experience to be so undermined.
The adaptation to the hard surface and the height is a defining part of the preparation. At least that’s how the theory works. The Lions reached Cape Town with teeming skies and a swampy Newlands, ideal for their hard work, which was duly reflected in the 12-3 result, all free kicks, three penalties from Bennett and a drop goal from Edwards.
“This backline was the best collective I have ever played with”
South Africa reacted with alarm and uncertainty. They made eight changes for the second test in Pretoria and it didn’t do them much good. The Lions proved they were far more than heavy hitters, scoring five tries by JJ Williams (2), Dick Milliken, Bennett and Brown, with Bennett adding a penalty and a conversion and McGeechan a dropped goal.
“That backline was the best collective I’ve ever played with,” said McGeechan. “We have drilled and drilled, passed and passed, and apologized when a pass was only an inch out.”