It is only meant to happen in comic-book fiction: the unheralded youngster who flies to New Zealand to make up the numbers, performs like Popeye after several extra portions of spinach and walks off a hero. By the time he entered the post-match press conference here on Saturday clutching a slice of pizza, even hard-bitten Kiwi rugby writers were seeking a piece of Ryan Jones.
The long-haired loose forward continued to be excellent value as he described how apprehensive he felt on the long flight from Wales's tour of Canada, doing his best not to panic about the prospect of shaking hands with players he is still in awe of. Lions' tours have a habit of fast-tracking promising youth and, after just six days in the country, Jones has sky-rocketed from also-ran to the verge of a Test place after edging his national captain Michael Owen out of the squad to face the All Blacks.
This tour party is not massively stocked with back-row ball carriers of power and athleticism and, in the end, Clive Woodward could not ignore the evidence of his own eyes. "I thought it was one of the boys taking the piss," said Jones, describing his reaction to his original Lions call-up. "A week ago I wasn't here so this is a dream come true."
A montage of the highlights to date would certainly include the 24-year-old's 52nd-minute try, a thunderous stampede to the line following a clever pop-pass from Shane Williams. "I just picked a line, closed my eyes and the rest is history," said Jones. It secured the Lions a lead they never relinquished in an encounter which tested their character and collective nerve and earned them plus-marks in both categories.
Otago had initially looked dangerous on a cool, still evening at the "House of Pain", missed tackles by Denis Hickie and Charlie Hodgson contributing to a converted try for Danny Lee. Only when Will Greenwood collected a Hodgson cross-kick to level the scores just before half-time did the balance of power tip, the Lions' forwards making increasing inroads. New Zealand will not yield so readily, although neither camp has yet revealed their full arsenals. "I think there might still be a bit in the cupboard," said Otago's coach Wayne Graham, asked to rate the Lions' series prospects.
Others, not least the former All Blacks coach Lawrie Mains, have been queuing up to predict a 3-0 blackwash, but those with first-hand knowledge of the touring side's physicality and competitiveness are starting to express grudging respect. "They cheated like buggery and good luck to them because they got away with it," was the view of Otago's captain Craig Newby. "If they're now worried how effective we are at the breakdown we must be doing something right," responded Ian McGeechan drily. Shane Williams' late score, a fine long-range team effort, also hinted at a gradual meshing of individual talents.
Then again, what does Jones's success tell us? If days and weeks of meticulous preparation are so essential to elite performance, how can a former tennis player who only took up rugby in his mid-teens hop off a long-haul flight and instantly be man of the match despite knowing only the minimum of calls? Maybe he should have been picked in the first place? Woodward has almost everything planned out in minute detail but Jones seems to be the exception to every rule.