Fran Cotton's unbeaten Lions arrived on the high veld fully expecting the red mist to descend over the Johann van Riebeeck Stadium. As it turned out, Mpumalanga generated nothing more frightening than the smoke of a thousand barbecues and in the space of 20 extraordinary minutes, the up- country hard-nuts of the South-Eastern Transvaal found themselves blown away by some very special rugby indeed.
Anyone tempted to write off Rob Wainwright, the Lions' blind-side flanker, following his travails in the swamplands of East London a week ago was forced to think again as Scotland's national captain ran in a startling hat-trick of tries before the end of the opening quarter.
The wings, Ieuan Evans and Tony Underwood, then found their stride with two tries apiece and with Matt Dawson, Neil Jenkins and Nick Beal also picking routes through a bemused and befuddled home defence, there was little for Mpumalanga to do but snarl about in search of the odd smidgen of mayhem.
Sadly, they achieved something in that direction. Elandre van der Bergh, the culprit when Jon Callard was badly disfigured in Port Elizabeth in 1994, re-confirmed his position of high office in the Head-kickers' Convention by "river dancing" all over Wainwright at a 24th-minute ruck. His second- row partner, Marius Bosman, also made a mark of sorts by stamping on Doddie Weir's left knee - an act that may threaten the Scotsman's tour and so incensed the Lions' management that they immediately mustered arms for a diplomatic incident. "The stamp on Doddie was a cold-blooded act totally out of context with the game," said an incandescent Ian McGeechan, the Lions coach. "Under the terms of the tour agreement we cannot cite the offender because the incident was dealt with by the referee, but the fact remains that Doddie has a medial ligament injury that may prove very serious."
Still, nothing could detract from a performance of high quality from the tourists and happily, given events in the north island of New Zealand four years ago, the foundations were laid by a tight unit of celtic persuasion. If ever three Irishmen and a pair of Scots re-established some tarnished reputations, it was here yesterday. Back in 1993, their immediate Lions ancestors turned their backs on the red jersey and allowed Waikato to inflict one of the most humiliating defeats in the history of British Isles tour parties. This time, it was a different story.
Tom Smith, the new David Sole from north of the border, may well have played himself into the Test team with a solid scrummaging performance allied to some dynamic support work in open field. His fellow prop, Paul Wallace, also made inroads with the selectors with a rich display of skilled ball-handling far beyond the scope of most British tight forwards. "The continuity from the loose forwards has been in evidence all tour," said Tim Rodber, the captain. "What we were able to draw on this time was a very strong contribution from the tight forwards."
Wainwright's remarkable burst of scoring effectively killed the game before anyone had broken sweat. Intelligent co-operation between Neil Back and Allan Bateman, plus an elusive run from Evans, opened the door for the first try in the 11th minute, while the second had more to do with muscle as the lean Watsonian wrestled his way over from close-range on 15. Two minutes later, Wainwright employed his natural pace to capitalise on Keith Wood's pop-pass and gallop in from 20 metres.
Further scores arrived at regular intervals, Dawson and Underwood crossing before the break. Underwood took advantage of Evans' clever angle to rub it in within a minute of the restart, by which time Mpumalanga were dead in the water. Next up are the Blue Bulls of Northern Transvaal. They will not have enjoyed what they saw yesterday.
Mpumalanga: Tries Joubert 2; Conversions van As 2. Lions: Tries Wainwright 3, Underwood 2, Evans 2, Dawson, Jenkins, Beal; Conversions Jenkins 7.
Mpumalanga: E von Gericke; J Visagie, R Potgieter, G Bouwer, P Nel (A van Rooyen, 77); R
van As, D van Zyl; H Swart, H Kemp, A Botha, M Bosman, E van der Bergh, F Rossouw, T Oosthuizen (capt; J Beukes, 71), P Joubert.
LIONS: N Beal (Northampton and England); I Evans (Llanelli and Wales), A Bateman (Richmond and Wales), W Greenwood (Leicester), T Underwood (Newcastle and England); N Jenkins (Pontypridd and Wales), M Dawson (Northampton and England); T Smith (Watsonians and Scotland), K Wood (Harlequins and Ireland), P Wallace (Saracens and Ireland), G Weir (Newcastle and Scotland), J Davidson (London Irish and Ireland), R Wainwright (Watsonians and Scotland), T Rodber (Northampton and England, capt), N Back (Leicester and
England). Replacements: M Regan (Bristol and England) for Wood, 52; S Shaw (Bristol and England) for Weir, 56; D Young (Cardiff and Wales) for Wallace, 74.
Referee: C Spannenberg (Western Province).
England are confident that Adedayo Adebayo will play in the second Test in Argentina on Saturday, despite the ankle injury the wing picked up in Tuesday's 37-8 victory over Cuyo.Reuse content