DURBAN // The famous B field at King's Park Stadium resembled a war zone yesterday after the mother of all parties following South Africa's defeat of the British & Irish Lions. Springbok fans celebrated long and hard. And why wouldn't they? The build-up to the series had been enormous and a win in the first Test was vital.
The Boks played with great spirit and power and they made a mess of the Lions at the set piece. Typically, the estimated 20,000 Lions' followers took the defeat manfully and headed off to Durban's famed watering holes to drown their sorrows. Humour comes standard with Lions' tourists and their good-natured presence in South Africa has amplified the enjoyment of the tour. The South African hosts have made poor errors, not least with marketing and team selections, but suggestions of the Lions being killed off are the wrong way to go. They remain iconic and proud and deserve to be prolonged.
There was mixed media reaction to the 26-21 win by South Africa. The headline in the mass circulation Sunday Times said: "Close call for Boks", saying the Springboks' generosity almost came back to bite them but if this Test gave us a hint of things to come, it was that, physically, South Africa have the Lions' measure.' Rapport, the national Afrikaans Sunday paper, picked up on the Boks' muscular approach.
"BEEEEEAAAAASST! - That's the sound Lions tight-head Phil Vickery will hear in his nightmares in the years to come," screamed the paper after Tendai "Beast" Mtawarira mangled the gnarled England veteran. Mtawarira had flown his fiancee in for the game and, after collecting the man-of-the -match award, went off in search of his bride-to-be. "I think we'll have to keep her around for a bit," quipped the South Africa captain John Smit.
The Sunday Independent criticised the coach Peter de Villiers' tactic of early substitutions, only to lay into the Lions' undercooked methods: "The Springboks had shown their Rugby World Cup mettle against a Lions team that for three-quarters of the match were found out to be concealing deception beneath a month of flattery." The Lions will doubtless spend the week assessing the problem areas, notably with the law interpretations at the scrum and breakdown.
The next Test, in Pretoria, will feature a northern-hemisphere referee; something bound to find approval within the Lions ranks. They also intend to have a word with Paddy O'Brien, the International Rugby Board's head of referees. Hopefully the match will attract a capacity crowd, which wasn't the case in Durban. High ticket prices and confusion over availability - the market was flooded with tickets at the 11th hour after a host of tour cancellations by cash-strapped Lions fans - combined to leave the famous stadium with a raft of empty seats.
The nature of the match, highlighted by the Lions' stirring fightback, has given the tourists hope that they will be able to swing things around at Loftus Versfeld. But with de Villiers' admission that he had made a grave error of judgment by emptying his bench much too early, there is little chance the mistake will be repeated. Plus the Boks will have shaken off their rustiness. There is another thing: only one Lions team in more than a century has won a series after losing the first Test.
With Ellis Park in Johannesburg as the final Test venue, South Africa are not a team likely to lose twice at altitude in successive weeks. The rampant Boks are halfway there. Whatever else they may say, the Lions are yet to start the race. email@example.com