Lions team mates celebrate with Kwagga Smith after scoring his try during the Super Rugby Semifinal match between Lions and Hurricanes at the Ellis Park. Picture: Christiaan Kotze/BackpagePix

We are down at the Kruger Park and it is at its magnificent best. It’s also great to report that almost every vehicle we encounter seems to be full of foreign tourists.

However, the locals seem more preoccupied with talking about, rather than looking for, lions.

Every single person from South Africa that we have spoken to, regardless of from whence they hail, wants to talk about, not big game, but The Big Game.

It really feels like a World Cup final and when you think back a few short years, to the nadir of Lions rugby in 2009 when the British and Irish Lions put 70 past the home side in front of a paltry crowd, that today will happen before a packed Ellis Park seems scarcely believable.

However, the job is not yet done. There are 80 minutes to go.

Last week was textbook.

The Hurricanes were marvelous in that first half but altitude and jet lag were burning up their petrol.

At the break, Nick Mallett berated the home team for not kicking to the corners, but the quick taps added to the fuel deficit of the visitors.

In that second half, with lungs bursting and reactions feeling slow, they could not live with the Lions.

The question is, will they be able to repeat the performance today?

The Crusaders are a magnificent professional outfit and central to their strength, after ability and spirit, is total preparation.

They know about the Lions and they know all about the danger of pace.

So what would you do in their place?

Of course they will play to their strengths, which means grinding away up front, trying to dominate in the tight and using their fast and skilled backs.

However, today the obvious thing is for them to slow the game down at every opportunity.

Watch out for extreme strolling to set pieces. Watch out for long and many injury breaks. Watch out for requests by the skipper to talk to his men.

The Crusaders will play at their usual intensity but within this plan, they will try to manufacture as many pauses as possible.

Thus they will try and negate the Lions pushing the altitude and jet lag advantages they have, courtesy of topping the overall log.

Fair enough, but it begs a big question. To what extent will the referee allow dawdling? When will he call time-wasting? Oh yes, the referee is South African. This puts massive pressure on Jaco Peyper. Is it fair.

One of the greatest compliments to Sanzaar referees is the lack of compulsory neutrals for games. It screams ethical and non-partisan performance, and that the issue is rarely raised speaks volumes for their abilities and character.

However, last week and the card controversy caused the first crack in this. Has that put even more pressure on the man in the middle today? What happens if and when he has to make a call on the pace of the game?

The more it is considered, despite the wonderful example it sets, the more you feel a neutral should be used.

Go, the Lions. Go, the crowd. Go, a victory for pace and bravery over an arm wrestle.

A final message to the home team from painful personal experience: When you get to a major final, you will never forget the experience. Only when you win it will you never be forgotten.

Go, rugby!

* Robbie is a former Transvaal, Ireland and British and Irish Lions scrumhalf.


Saturday Star

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