sport news Lions and Springboks off the leash at last after a troubled tour build-up

sport news Lions and Springboks off the leash at last after a troubled tour build-up
sport news Lions and Springboks off the leash at last after a troubled tour build-up

The mood has shifted. The gloves are off. A Lions tour that has been all about protecting the right to take part has now become all about winning.

For so many weeks and months, there was a shared goal across the sporting divide between South Africa on one side and Britain and Ireland on the other. There was a mutual determination to somehow make this happen; to keep the show on the road, in defiance of Covid chaos.

Well, that goal has been achieved — by the finest of margins — so that phase is over. The two sides are now entrenched in their rival camps, primed for the outbreak of hostilities. After such an unusual build-up, there is something comforting about normal service being resumed, just in time.

The Lions are ready for their first Test against South Africa after a series of Covid scares

The Lions are ready for their first Test against South Africa after a series of Covid scares

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Outbreaks have been overcome and doubts about whether this momentous event would take place have receded. The nagging dread about this once-in-a-generation crusade being wrecked by the pandemic has given way to the welcome tradition of pre-match sparring and antagonism.

As an indication that the outlook has improved, the Springboks and the Lions have started winding each other up, in readiness for the grand occasion on Saturday evening. Their showdown will go ahead against a backdrop of tit-for-tat tension, as if this fixture needed any more ingredients.

Warren Gatland and Rassie Erasmus have both enjoyed stirring the pot. The tourists' head coach claimed Faf de Klerk should have been sent off for a dangerous tackle in the game against South Africa A last Wednesday, so Erasmus returned fire, releasing clips on social media which suggested Owen Farrell may have been guilty of high shots which went undetected and unpunished.

But Gatland was not finished, rightly arguing that Erasmus — the Boks' World Cup-winning director of rugby — should not be allowed to provide on-field coaching while masquerading as a water carrier, minus the actual water. He was also incensed by the 11th-hour appointment of a South African TMO and suggested the Lions had 'dented the egos' of the hosts in the close encounter 10 days ago.

His sentiments have gone down like the proverbial lead balloon in these parts, which will not faze Gatland in the slightest. The Kiwi has been in his element. He argued that South Africa aided the Lions' preparations by showing their hand in the guise of a second-string side, but Erasmus was able to savour a 17-13 victory and the fact the visitors managed just one single try, when his team were reduced to 13 men. Time will tell where the moral victory really lay.

Warren Gatland has engaged in pre-match sparring with the Springboks ahead of first Test

Warren Gatland has engaged in pre-match sparring with the Springboks ahead of first Test

Erasmus, who inspired the Springboks to World Cup glory, has also enjoyed stirring the pot

Erasmus, who inspired the Springboks to World Cup glory, has also enjoyed stirring the pot

Saturday's Test is a showpiece fixture without much relevant evidence about the balance of power. The Boks are bound to be under-cooked, but the Lions have had it too easy against most opponents here. The Boks have hardly played since winning the World Cup in November 2019, but the Lions line-up is made up of largely untried combinations.

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His sentiments have gone down like the proverbial lead balloon in these parts, which will not faze Gatland in the slightest. The Kiwi has been in his element. He argued that South Africa aided the Lions' preparations by showing their hand in the guise of a second-string side, but Erasmus was able to savour a 17-13 victory and the fact the visitors managed just one single try, when his team were reduced to 13 men. Time will tell where the moral victory really lay.

Saturday's Test is a showpiece fixture without much relevant evidence about the balance of power. The Boks are bound to be under-cooked, but the Lions have had it too easy against most opponents here. The Boks have hardly played since winning the World

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