Lions fly-half, Elton Jantjies, runs through the Sunwolves defense during a Super Rugby match at Ellis Park. Kim Ladbrook/EPA

Did the Lions blow it last year? Did that decision over selection of the side that went to Argentina cost them the title? Was it a worthwhile gamble that just went wrong? Was it stupid?

Those questions have been on Lions fans’ lips for a year. Today is the chance to, in a way, answer them.

A home final it is not, but it is a crack at the defending champions at our home, our fortress, our Park. What a prospect.

The worrying thing is that of all sides, the Hurricanes do not seem to mind coming to South Africa. They have won four out of their last five games here and things seem to be coming right for them at the moment.

Dane Coles, that most athletic and combative of hookers, is back to win his 100th cap. That should at least nullify, if not trump, the Johan Ackermann emotional factor.

However, last year the home side were battle hardened against Kiwi opposition.

Who will ever forget that performance against the Highlanders? Ben Smith said that game was the fastest he had ever been involved in and the Lions well deserved their victory.

That was a hell of a compliment from such a magnificent running player.

This year, playing the Hurricanes will be a very different challenge to putting away poor Australian and South African sides as we have done, mostly, with ease.

This is the big league. In fact, last week’s stutter against the Sharks might be the best thing that has happened to the Lions - a wake-up call.

However, today is a big ask against a side that has very few weaknesses. Imagine being able to leave Julian Savea on your bench?

I hope the Lions cut loose right from the start. I hope they run it from everywhere and use the altitude and time-zone factors to their maximum effect.

Regardless of sleeping pills, manipulating patterns and talking them down, jet lag and altitude do make a difference.

To slow the game down and to kick more, especially if it is aimless, will play into the visitors’ hands.

Yes, Warren Whiteley, who fits into the Lions way so well and who drives it, is a big loss, but Kwagga Smith is also born to flourish in that game.

The key is confidence in fitness and in format.

By now every Lions player knows they are fitter than the rest and also that the more expansive the game is, the more they enjoy it and prosper.

The crowd also loves it and this side feed off their fans. We saw it last year.

After the British and Irish Lions’ incredible achievement in New Zealand, where they got up to speed so quickly with the locals’ high standards and varied tactics so well, there is in rugby an increased interest in creating an element of surprise.

The Joburg Lions might well be tempted to counter the visitors’ impressive line speed with kicking and close driving. That would be oh so wrong.

The way to play today is to get the gold-clad team gasping early and looking at the clock in despair. It happened last year against the Highlanders. Let’s do it again.

By the way, what a battle we will see in midfield. Lionel Mapoe and Harold Vorster up against Ngani Laumape and Vince Aso.

I fully expect our pair to rise to the occasion in defence and to attack the visitors. Bursting lungs can be a disadvantage to even the most talented of attackers.

Elton Jantjies had a bit of a stutter last week but ask when is he at his best - when he is given free rein to give it a lash and let slip the dogs of war outside him. Remember his game against the Highlanders last year? Remember that break?

The best present the Lions can give to their departing coach today is to display a master class of the legacy that he leaves.

That means discipline, yes, defensive intelligence and effort, yes, but more than that, the ability to play at high pace and to exhaust the opposition.

If they do that, at least in a year’s time we won’t be asking what would have happened.

Let’s not die wondering this time around...

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


Saturday Star

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