Rugby Union: No rest for the victorious

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The Independent Online
Once upon a time, a Lions Test victory in South Africa guaranteed an entire week on the tiles for the tourists and a sadistic verbal kicking for the defeated. True to form, the Springboks were forced to absorb a torrent of abuse yesterday as the implications of their first Test reverse in Cape Town were debated across the length and breadth of the nation. The Lions, however, have no truck with tradition.

The vast majority of Saturday's triumphant side were straight back out on the training field yesterday, working off the effects of their lacerations and abrasions with the breathless enthusiasm of a team who suspect their moment has arrived.

"They could have taken it easy in rehabilitation but they wanted to support the guys who will play against Free State in Bloemfontein tomorrow," said Fran Cotton, the manager. "It wasn't a management idea but a players' initiative. It was another example of the depth of unity we had in this squad."

Two key Lions gave the training session a wide berth. Gregor Townsend finished the Test with a rib injury that gave the tourists' medical team a serious fright but an X-ray revealed bruising rather than a break and the Scottish outside-half was expected to resume contact work on Wednesday. Likewise, Tom Smith's twisted ankle should clear up in good time for this weekend's second Test in Durban.

There was also a problem with Tony Underwood, the Newcastle left wing, who succumbed to a flu-type virus yesterday and remains a serious doubt for the Free State fixture. However, Eric Miller, the original Test No 8, and Simon Shaw, the English lock, have recovered from a similar condition and are likely to be included when the midweek line-up is confirmed later today.

Cotton, a passionate defender of the Lions' place in the rugby firmament, used the excitement generated by Saturday's victory to point a finger at those International Board members who publicly questioned the relevance of British Isles tour parties in the professional age. "I'm glad some of those IB delegates were at Newlands to watch the game because they might now revise their opinions," said the outspoken veteran of three tours between 1974 and 1980.

"I really don't understand some attitudes. We ought to be savouring truly great sporting occasions like the one we just experienced, not trying to get rid of them.

"I think British and Irish rugby has proved its value with this result. To beat the world champions in front of their home crowd in an environment like Newlands is one hell of a big call and I think we can be proud of our achievements. It was like a world heavyweight boxing championship out there, with both sides on the ropes at times. In those circumstances, the winners are those who soak it all up and come back fighting and our fitness and spirit allowed us to do that."

The manager also turned on the legions of Springbok critics who tore into Carel du Plessis, the national coach, following the Lions' 25-16 triumph. "They're being completely hysterical about Carel and I find it ridiculous," Cotton said. "It was a tremendous Test, a close game that South Africa might have won. We know the Boks will be harder and stronger when they come at us in Durban."