Off to a bad start: First Test traumas by Paul Trow

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The Independent Online
Peter Wheeler

1980: South Africa 26 Lions 22

IT WAS a close game. Our fly- half, Tony Ward, missed touch a lot and the Springboks kept coming back at us. South Africa was different to what I was used to with its hard pitches and games at high altitude. Personally, the altitude never affected me - I got just as knackered at sea level. It's interesting comparing what the present Lions are doing with what we went through. South Africa is rugby mad and the whole country is watching how you perform. A Lions series is a personal examination at a higher level than you've been to before. It can be intimidating physically and mentally, especially when you consider the size of their players. In 1980, their guys were much bigger than ours. The disparity is less marked now but they do breed big men down there. Logically, our best chance is in the opening Test. They haven't played together for a few months, they have a new coach and they have some new players. The South Africans believe they can't be beaten, so if you win the First Test, it rattles them and they start blaming the selection. Then they chop and change and can end up with an unsettled side.

Robert Norster

1983: New Zealand 16 Lions 12

IT WAS a typical New Zealand day - wet underfoot, low sun, long shadows. We'd grown up dreaming about the Lions and it conjured up the emotions. The first Test in any series is vital but we had no illusions. The All Blacks in those days were an awesome prospect, especially in their own backyard. We'd played well in the build-up games but this was another dimension. We were slightly under their spell and paid the price, but in the forwards we gave as good as we got and had the upper hand in the set pieces. I almost got a try under the sticks after breaking through with Graham Price following a line-out. They held me up so we spun it out but Robert Ackerman fumbled before touching down. That was a telling blow. The tour went horribly wrong afterwards and we never got close to them again. Several of us came home early - Terry Holmes injured his knee in Christchurch and I fractured some vertebrae in the Second Test. In the end it was a cake-walk for them. That's why I was pleased our boys battled back after losing to Northern Transvaal. Now there are only three Tests, the first one is even more important.

Finlay Calder

1989: Australia 30 Lions 12

WE got caught cold. By the time we got to the First Test we had already faced all the opposing players in earlier matches. As a consequence, we weren't overawed by them and perhaps were a touch complacent. We were naive with our selection, didn't give them enough respect and they capitalised on it. They were up for it and we weren't, but having said that, everything went right for them and wrong for us. We didn't impose ourselves and had to play catch-up rugby all afternoon. It was a huge scalp for them and they were on a complete high from it, while we had to have a close look at our mistakes. We were deflated afterwards but at least we realised the answer lay in our own hands. It was not as if we had performed to the height of our potential. But we had to build a team to do a job and brought in Wade Dooley at second row, Scott Hastings at centre and Rob Andrew at stand-off. Playing in the First Test of a new Lions series is a step into the unknown. You're going up a level and haven't had much time to get your selection right, especially as you always find a few unlikely players forcing their way into contention.

Ben Clarke

1993: New Zealand 20 Lions 18

THERE was tremendous excitement in the camp during the week building up to the First Test. I had only just come back from injury and like most of the other players was wondering if I was going to be selected. Running out on to the field for the first Test was a very different experience to a Five Nations international. You have new team- mates and it takes a while to get to know each other, even though you're bound together by a common goal. The Test matches are the main objective of any Lions tour and yet you're not really sure what to expect going into the first one. As it turned out, we should have won. A couple of dubious decisions went their way, notably towards the end when Grant Fox kicked a long-range penalty which in effect won them the game. The Australian referee claimed we'd killed the ball in the tackle, but we had made a lot of mistakes and that's really why we lost. We then had two weeks until the next Test to put a few things right, and at least the First Test had given us the belief that we could beat them. For the Second Test we were thoroughly prepared and levelled the series with a great performance.

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