Rugby Union: South Africa struggle to come to terms with defeat that defied logic

Paul Stephens on how immortality awaits Johnson's heroes in Johannesbur g
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At the end of any other 17-year period in South Africa's colourful history it would have required something akin to a Presidential assassination to have provoked mourning on a scale now in progress throughout the Rainbow Nation.

Since the Lions were last here in 1980, no team from Britain or Ireland, with the possible exception of England at Loftus Versfeld in 1994, have been able to stage so improbable a victory. Even then, after Rob Andrew's 27-point haul in the 32-15 Pretoria defeat, the Springboks gained ample revenge by 27-9, to tie the series in Cape Town a week later.

Against these indefatigable Lions there can be no revenge, only a belated backlash in Johannesburg on Saturday. But the Springboks, after last week's unexpected loss at Newlands, promised a backlash in Durban though it never materialised. As a gesture to what might have been there will be those willing to mourn for the Springbok coach, Carel du Plessis. But they will be far outnumbered by the many who were at King's Park to applaud one of the greatest defensive performances in the 109-year history of the Lions.

How can a team which has been just six weeks in the making, with a pack of forwards so unfairly outsized and hopelessly outpowered, beat the world champions in front of the most raucous and emotionally charged crowd in South Africa?

Du Plessis could no more find a cogent answer to that question, as he groped for an explanation of the nature and significance of his side's defeat, than could the Springbok captain, Gary Teichmann. An hour after the final whistle, Teichmann said: "I still can't believe we lost."

In years to come, some of those Lions who played in this extraordinary match may still not believe they won. The exception being Jeremy Guscott, who has been both peacock and picador on this tour, and who lanced the Springboks' hopes of levelling the series with his 76th-minute dropped goal. Guscott's match-winning score has now gone into the record books in indelible ink, along with Andrew's similar effort which ended Australia's World Cup dreams in Cape Town in 1995. Andrew, here to commentate for BBC Radio, said: "I think I know how Jerry feels. It had three points written all over it from the moment it left his boot."

Yesterday the Lions flew to Johannesburg where immortality awaits if they can make it 3-0 by beating the Springboks at Ellis Park in five days' time. A little over a week ago the best price a bookmaker would give you on over-confident South Africa taking the series by that margin was 5-1 on.