The hero of the last victorious Lions tour believes underdog status did the 1997 Lions no harm at all when they travelled to South Africa 12 years ago.
Jerry Guscott kicked a dramatic late drop goal to seal a second Test triumph for Ian McGeechan’s men in Durban, a win that secured a series victory that only the boldest of commentators had predicted prior to the tour.
The Bath and England centre feels that the dismissive attitude of certain South Africans simply added to his side’s desire to become only the second Lions squad to win a series in the Republic throughout the 20th century.
"In ’97, we were underdogs and Louis Luyt (then president of the South African Rugby Union) said as much when we arrived at the airport in Johannesburg – ‘thanks for making up the numbers guys. We’ll show you in and we’ll show you out’.
"That was a big spur to us to go out there and prove Louis Luyt wrong."
Guscott and his team-mates did exactly that, ensuring Luyt and many of his countrymen, as well as plenty of non-believers back home, were forced to eat their words by the time the Lions left with a 2-1 series win.
While Luyt was mocking the Lions’ chances before the first ball had even been kicked, Guscott himself had little doubt that the 1997 Lions would prove to be more than competitive against the world champions.
"I remember we were at the first press conference and I was sat there listening to Luyt and I was thinking, ‘you really haven’t looked around and seen the quality of player that’s in this squad’.
"I looked around the whole of our squad and I thought, ‘I’m going to struggle to get in this Test team’ and I think a lot of players thought like that.
"Yes, South Africa had won the World Cup two years before but at that time they weren’t a team that was growing. They had a lot of experience but they were almost coming to an end. Not that you thought that at the time – I’m looking back and thinking that now."
Jerry Guscott’s dramatic drop goal secured a series victory against the Boks in 1997
With the current crop of Lions already being talked of as major underdogs in some quarters ahead of the 2009 tour to South Africa, Guscott believes the status comes with the territory when you consider the huge challenges the Lions have to face.
However, despite the difficulties associated with bringing together international opponents to form a side capable of beating the world’s best in an incredibly short space of time, Guscott is expecting big things from his contemporaries.
"Every tour for the Lions is almost impossible. Look at the odds that are stacked up against them. Really, a Lions squad should never win. The odds are stacked too much in the home team’s favour.
"It’s down to the make up of the players and their mentality. In ’97, we had a great mix and a great blend of amateurs, ex-professional rugby league players and a great coaching set up.
"I am confident for this tour, but I’m bound to be. I love the Lions. I love everything that it’s about. But I don’t say that they’re going to win the series for any romantic notions just because I love the Lions – I just think they’re going to be underestimated again.
"When that squad is announced, everyone will say, ‘Wow, that is a powerful team that can achieve something amazing in South Africa’."