After finishing eighth in last season’s NPC, Otago will not start as favourites to send the Lions into the Test series on the back of a second successive Saturday defeat. History, however, shows that few teams have surprised the Lions as often as the inventors of the ruck.
Dunedin was where it all began for the Lions, as the pioneers of 1888 opened their marathon tour there with two narrow victories over Otago.
The Anglo-Welsh tourists of 1908 were the first to taste defeat against the province, but the success of Doug Prentice’s 1930 side gave no hint of the ambush that lay ahead when Lions tours resumed after the war.
The 1930 tour peaked in Dunedin , where the Lions’ Test team ran in seven tries to beat Otago 33-9 and then returned to Carisbrook a week later to inflict on New Zealand a first ever defeat on that ground.
For nearly half a century, that would be as good as it got.
Under Vic Cavanagh, the coaching genius of the 1940s, Otago pioneered the science of the ruck, with all eight forwards sweeping ruthlessly over the tackled player to win quick ball their backs could use to exploit the spaces left as opponents committed themselves to stopping the initial forward drive.
In 1950 , the Lions knew nothing of the tactic and found themselves on the wrong end of a 23-9 scoreline before they had come to terms with it.
The tourists soon adapted to the tactic, and even adopted it themselves, but obviously forgot the lessons as soon as they set sail for home.
When they next returned, in 1959 , they received exactly the same treatment again, this time beaten 26-8, although they could at least claim injuries contributed to their downfall as they were forced to field two forwards among the backs.
By 1966 , beating the Lions had become habit-forming for Otago, winners for a third successive time by 17-9, and it took the mighty Lions of 1971 to restore order.
Barry John kicked his side to victory 21-9 and broke their individual points-scoring record in New Zealand along the way.
Six years later, the Lions needed to lean even more heavily on their goalkicker to hold off Otago, Phil Bennett knocking over all their points in a tense 12-7 win.
The one piece of history the 2005 tourists will not want to repeat is their last visit to the House of Pain, in 1993 . Then, as now, Otago were largely unfancied opposition facing the Lions on the Saturday before the opening Test.
On that occasion, a home team led by a lightning-fast back row of Arran Pene, Jamie Joseph and Josh Kronfeld played at a pace that left the Lions gasping in their wake, particularly during a second half in which they outscored their guests by 24-6.
By the final whistle, Otago had scored five tries to two and run out 37-24 winners, but the Lions left with injury added to insult as Scott Hastings fractured a cheekbone and Martin Bayfield ended the game as a major doubt for the Test after being flipped onto his neck in a lineout.
Bayfield recovered but it will require a special Lions performance to start restoring their record down Dunedin way.