So the Lions feel good about themselves: their morale is high, their spirit is strong, their enthusiasm levels are off the scale. A comprehensive win at the start of a tour can do wonderful things for self-belief, and a 74-10 victory against a Super 14 province is, on the face of it, as reassuring as it gets.
But if the Lions are smart, they will not go overboard in their response to Wednesday's non-contest in Johannesburg. They will see it for what it was: a straightforward demolition of opponents who were pretty shocking.
The home players had threatened to down tools and go on strike over the sacking of their coach a few days before the match, and for long periods on Wednesday it seemed they'd pressed ahead with their industrial action. Where were they? Not at their workplace, that's for sure.
My fear for the tourists is that, while the game was fine in terms of building confidence, it was far from fine as a test of execution. Some of those tries they scored would have been harder to finish on the training field, such was the absence of anything resembling a meaningful defence. Yes, they'll take the victory, but there simply wasn't enough pressure put on the Lions to indicate how accomplished they might be.
One or two things have become clear about the tourists' approach. They intend to go through teams rather than around them, which makes the big Welsh centre Jamie Roberts a very important player. He's impressive in many ways, direct and powerful in attack, extremely physical in defence. The problem is he has come to notice so early in the tour. The Lions will have to be careful where and when they play him from here on in, because it's not hard to imagine the South Africans getting after him before the Tests.
Ian McGeechan and his coaching team are in a similar position with Brian O'Driscoll, although no one in the Springbok hierarchy could have been surprised by the Irishman's fine performance at Ellis Park. I've mentioned more than once that he is leaner and fitter than he was a year ago, and that by shedding a few pints of Guinness from around his middle he has recaptured something approaching his best form. He was excellent in Johannesburg, individually and in terms of his working relationship with Roberts. The Lions have something to build on with these two, and the Boks will have to think long and hard about the best way to deal with them.
Up front, the pack barely functioned in the opening match in Rustenburg, and I am still to be convinced the Lions have solved their issues at hooker and No 8, two key positions. But they have found a serious tight-head prop in Euan Murray, whose impact off the bench on Wednesday night was substantial. While we are still in the early stages of the trip, I'll be surprised if he isn't anchoring the Test scrum in Durban a fortnight today.
I also suspect we'll discover much more of value about the Lions this afternoon. The Free State Cheetahs had a rough Super 14 tournament, but on previous tours there has been a "fourth Test" smell about matches in Bloemfontein and I have no doubt that this will be a more thorough examination of the tourists. The Cheetahs will back their defence – South African teams are generally happy to win matches without the ball – and bring a tremendous amount of mongrel to the conflict at the breakdown. I reckon the Lions will know they've been in a match.
It may even be that they will have had a taste of what the Springboks themselves will bring to the table when the Test series begins, but then, one glance at the Bulls' extraordinary, high-energy performance in last weekend's Super 14 final in Pretoria will tell them all they need to know. Yes, they were playing under the southern hemisphere Experimental Law Variations – now about to be laid to rest, thank heaven – but a lot of the pain they inflicted on the Waikato Chiefs would have been dished out under any set of regulations you care to name.
So many of South Africa's senior decision-makers were on the field at Loftus Versfeld – Victor Matfield and Fourie du Preez, to mention but a couple – that they could not help lifting the veil on Springbok thinking. Not that this will make the Lions feel any better about themselves, because Matfield and Du Preez were two of the stand-out individuals in the best team performance I've seen from anyone for at least a year.Reuse content