Lions open as support act to Bulls

Tourists' first game takes second billing to Super 14 final in nearby Pretoria

The South Africans, never wholly satisfied with beating opponents unless they also beat them up for good measure, do not always give the British and Irish Lions a free ride at the start of a tour: Robin Thompson's 1955 vintage lost their opening match against Western Transvaal – a result that "severely dented our confidence", the flanker Clem Thomas admitted in his account of the trip – while Arthur Smith's team could only scrape a draw against Griqualand West seven years later. A few Griquas will be on the 2009 Lions' case in three days' time, but no one seriously anticipates a morale-wrecking experience on this occasion.

It will be more strange than threatening. Thanks to the fixture schedulers, who increasingly go out of their way to make life awkward for the paying public, the tour opener in Rustenburg against a Royal XV drawn from three of the lesser highveld provinces clashes with the final of the Super 14 competition, in which the Bulls, who have absolutely nothing "lesser" about them, take on the Waikato Chiefs in neighbouring Pretoria. It would seem spare tickets for the latter contest are much more of a rarity than those for the former.

Even Warren Gatland, the head coach of Wales and one of the Lions' principal strategists here, feels torn. "I'll be cheering like hell for the Chiefs," said the New Zealander, who was born in the Waikato capital of Hamilton, spent many fruitful years playing in the provincial team's front row and was a member of the pack that reduced the Lions to their component parts on a gruesome day in 1993. "It's a big moment for them and I'd love to see them win, although I can think of easier challenges than playing in front of 50,000 Bulls supporters at Loftus Versfeld."

Gatland assured his audience that there was no possibility of him taking a wrong turning off the Rustenburg road and finding himself in Pretoria instead. It is probably as well, for although the Lions are expected to win comfortably on Saturday against a humdrum collection of Griquas, Leopards (originally Western Transvaal) and Pumas (known both as South Eastern Transvaal and Mpumalanga in years gone by), the tough stuff will arrive soon enough. By the time the Lions play the Free State Cheetahs in the third game, followed by the Natal-based Sharks and Western Province, they will need to have a few things sorted.

"One of the mistakes I made bringing Wales to South Africa this time last year was thinking we'd pick up from where we left off in winning the Six Nations Grand Slam," Gatland admitted. "The key thing in coming here is to go back to basics and to work on being strong at the set piece and dynamic at the breakdown. We'll also have to think seriously about our kicking game, especially when we're playing at altitude, where distance really matters. We have kicking outside-halves, and people like Lee Byrne bring a big boot to the full-back position, but we don't have recognised kickers in midfield. It's not an area where we have a huge amount of depth." Where, oh where is Gavin Henson when his people need him?

Happily, there was reassuring news on the injury front. The Lions trained in force, successfully incorporating a Leinster contingent who were still shaking off the after-effects, both orthopaedic and alcoholic, of their Heineken Cup triumph over Leicester in Edinburgh last weekend. Even the stellar centre Brian O'Driscoll did a bit, although his fragile right shoulder prevented him playing a full part in the session. He will certainly not be involved in Rustenburg, and may not appear until the Free State game in Bloemfontein on Saturday week.

For their part, the Springboks will begin preparations for the three-Test series with a practice match against a Namibian Invitation XV in Windhoek on Friday. The formidable prop Tendai Mtawarira, who glories in the delightful nickname "Beast", joined the squad late after sitting an examination paper. Rumours that he is studying for a doctorate in how to ram the heads of his opponents into their nether regions have not been confirmed by the South African hierarchy.

News
people
Sport
Newcastle players celebrate, Mario Balotelli scores, Alan Pardew and Brendan Rodgers
footballNewcastle vs Liverpool , Arsenal vs Burnley, Chelsea vs QPR and Everton vs Swansea
News
i100Amazing Amazon review bomb
Arts and Entertainment
The Spice Girls' feminism consisted of shouting 'girl power' and doing peace signs in latex catsuits
musicWhat is it? You know what you want it to be...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Life and Style
food + drinkFrom Mediterranean Tomato Tart to Raw Caramel Peanut Pie
News
Moss and Grimshaw arrive at the party
peopleKate Moss, Claudia Schiffer and Nick Grimshaw at Jonathan Ross's Halloween party
Arts and Entertainment
Armstrong, left, and Bain's writing credits include Peep Show, Fresh Meat, and The Old Guys
TVThe pair have presented their view of 21st-century foibles in shows such as Peep Show and Fresh Meat
News
i100
Extras
Boys to men: there’s nothing wrong with traditional ‘manly’ things, until masculinity is used to exclude people
indybest13 best grooming essentials
Travel
travelPurrrfect jet comes to Europe
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch attends the London premiere of his new film The Imitation Game
people He's not as smart as his characters
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Bryan Adams' heartstopping images of wounded British soldiers to go on show at Somerset House

Bryan Adams' images of wounded soldiers

Taken over the course of four years, Adams' portraits are an astonishing document of the aftermath of war
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities