Sometimes in sport, things don’t make any sense. And back in 1997, when the Bulls took to the field against the British & Irish Lions, the result didn’t seem to make sense. But in a good way, if you were a Bulls fan. It’s almost 25 years since the Bulls’ historic victory over the Lions, a magical sporting moment given the difficulties Bulls were facing at the time. Nobody expected the victory, but it was a day for heroes on the pitch at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria.
That day in 1997 remains the last time a non-Springbok team was able to defeat the Lions on their Tour. The Lions have had 14 wins (and one draw) since the Bulls defied the odds, but they will get the chance once again on 10th July this year at Loftus. Can lightning strike twice in Pretoria?
The Lions Challenge is Formidable for Any Team
If you don’t follow rugby, or pay little attention to what goes on outside the South African game, it’s difficult to state just how tough the Lions test is. The best players are plucked from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales – all great rugby nations in their own right – to create a formidable super team, and they are hellbent on a successful tour. The documentary, Living With Lions, focuses on the 1997 Tour of South Africa, and it will give you an incredible insight into the determination required to excel at top-level sport.
Obviously, this Tour has been fraught with difficulty and the chance of postponement, but the show must go on, and it will roll into Pretoria on 10th July. The game against the Bulls is part of the warm-up series of matches (although they are certainly not played with any sense of being friendlies) before the main event, the games against South Africa on 24th July (Cape Town), 31st July and 7th August (both Johannesburg).
Lions Slight Favourites with Bookmakers
According to the sports betting site William Hill, the Lions have a slight advantage, with odds of 4/6 that they win the tour. But South Africa, like we need to remind you, are the world champions, and their odds of 5/4 show how fine the margins are. This feels more like a coin-toss, and Lions Tests tend to be decided on wills, not just skills.
As for the game in Pretoria, the Bulls will need a similar odds-beating performance like 1997. While the team is South Africa’s most successful, they were once again struggling before the Super League season was postponed last year. Things have picked up again for Jake White’s team in the Rainbow Cup, although, as we keep stressing, the Lions challenge will be infinitely tougher.
But should the Bulls top the South African Rainbow Cup group (they currently lead the table), they will play the winner of the Pro 14 (Northern Hemisphere) group in Italy on 19th June. That would be the perfect way for the team to prepare for the Lions game a few weeks later.
It still remains unclear what authorities are doing about getting fans into the stadium for the big game in July. But whether Loftus is at half-capacity or empty, the visit of the British and Irish Lions will still be a titanic test. Getting a magic result again, as the team did a quarter of a century ago, could deliver some good feeling to the city.