Byline: PETER JACKSON reports from Johannesburg
THE LIONS will emerge into the towering temple of Springbok rugby tonight with a three-word dictat ringing in their ears: 'No more excuses.' After days of their management making public allowances for last weekend's shoddy start, defence coach Shaun Edwards acknowledges that the time has come for the British and Irish to deliver at Ellis Park against their native namesakes in the first all-Lions fixture of its kind.
The fact that only last week their opponents threatened to go on strike makes it all the more imperative that the tourists show they mean business.
Excuses about rustiness and adjusting to an altitude of 6,000 feet will no longer wash. 'We had that excuse last Saturday because the experts reckon it takes eight days to adjust,' Edwards said. 'We'll have been here nine days come kick-off so we can't go into this game with any excuses. We need to play for the full 80 minutes and put a marker down.
'I am well aware of the expectation and if you can't handle the pressure, you shouldn't put yourself up for the job. I've met a few South African people who have said to me, "What do you do with the Lions?" I told them I'm the defence coach and when they heard that, they wished me good luck.
'They think I might need some which gives me a little more in the way of motivation.' The local Golden Lions, whose more famous deeds in their former guise of Transvaal include wins over England and the Lions, are no longer the fearsome force they used to be, hence their finishing place third from bottom of the Super 14.
They have been warming up for this match by sacking Eugene Eloff as coach and averting industrial action by elements within the team who wanted to down tools in sympathy for 'Loffie'.
The real Lions, the British and Irish of the species, will be wary of opponents in such apparent disarray that only two of their number, Jaque Fourie and Earl Rose, have made the 28-man Springbok elite for the Test series.
With Fourie resting and Rose parked on the bench as substitute full back, the home Lions are down to two Test players, prop Lawrence Sephaka and fly half Andre Pretorius.
The few English who survived their last exposure to Pretorius to make this trip will no doubt have advised their Celtic colleagues of the stand off's capacity for dropping goals by the cluster.
His battery of four did for England at Twickenham in November 2006 and, more seriously, head coach Andy Robinson who lost his job as a result. An almost completely …