Oliver Tambo International Airport rippled with muscle and tension yesterday.
The Lions were catching a flight to Bloemfontein, the Springboks were dispersing for a few days ‘r & r’ before regathering in Durban next Tuesday and the terminal was full of players strutting around like Wyatt Earp and his brothers in Tombstone.
All the guns were on show again with bulging arms held out from bodies as though each was carrying an invisible medicine ball. Schalk ‘Supersize Ne’ Burger shook hands and chatted briefly with one of the Lions’ back-up staff but the players did not appear to come into direct contact — that won’t happen until the First Test on June 20.
This Lions series with South Africa is starting to seriously whet the appetite and increasingly looks like being a memorable affair. So two weeks, two wins, what do we know?
Well, we know the Lions are now being taken seriously by an notoriously arrogant rugby nation where opposition are routinely dismissed as readily as sloggers in a Twenty20 cricket match.
There was no question Ian McGeechan and his men were something of an afterthought in the first week.
A quaint indulgence whose struggles against a hotch-potch Royal XV in the outpost of Rustenberg (do not rent a holiday home there) raised smirks among Bok fans and pundits who were revelling in the Bulls’ goring of the Chiefs in the Super 14 final.
But the smirks have faded after Wednesday night’s humiliation of the Golden Lions who, whatever their internal troubles, represented a proud rugby province. Their capitulation was taken as an embarrassment to South African rugby and, suddenly, what was once viewed as a routine victory against inferior northern opponents — a means of atoning for 1997 and preparing for the Tri Nations — has become a Lions-stuffing imperative.
Nobody questions the strength of the Springboks or the significance of home advantage with two Tests at altitude. However, there a few factors surrounding the World Cup-holders that could work in the Lions’ favour.
The first is their increasingly eccentric coach Peter De Villiers, or ‘Div’ as he is commonly referred to, deeply unpopular head man among the majority of Bok fans. The squad was largely along expected lines, backboned by a herd of Bulls high on confidence, but there were a couple of classic ‘Div’ decisions as the coach opted to go without a recognised full-back and with Ricky Januarie as scrum-half cover for Fourie du Preez.
It is widely acknowledged that Januarie’s place in the squad should have been filled by Jano Vermaak — one of the few players to impress for the Golden Lions — while the full-back conundrum is causing ructions.
The other issue is preparation. While the Lions have another four matches to fine tune for the Test series, the Boks have already played their sole warm-up game — an unconvincing victory over a Namibian selection when they lacked their Bulls contingent and a convincing gameplan.
There has yet to be a shot fired between the Boks and Lions but both parties are tooling up, strapping on their gun-belts and starting the slow stalk towards their OK Corral in Durban.