Lee Mears Diary: Our lungs still burn at this altitude

Follow the inside story of the tour every Friday in our exclusive column from the Bath, England & Lions hooker
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Our big win over the Golden Lions on Wednesday was great for the squad's morale and the buzz in the changing room afterwards was brilliant. We now know we're off and running but none of us are kidding ourselves that it was good enough to win a Test match against the Springboks and we've got to keep getting better and better.

Unlike the Royal XV match last weekend, we got into a lead and managed to crush the opposition's spirits quite early on. I didn't even look at the scoreboard at half-time as it was obvious we were on top and it was just a case of not going crazy chucking the ball around and to keep working on certain patterns and moves. They stole my first line-out, which was a bit of a surprise. The guy at the front got up really high and I thought, right, better keep my eye on him, and I put a bit more shape on the throw. After that the line-out went really well and I was very happy. We've got limited time to work on it but we've also got so many good line-out forwards which makes my job as thrower easier.

I'm not being asked to do anything different to what I do with Bath and England. My primary job is scrum and line-out and anything else is a bonus, though I enjoy running around on the firm grounds and we're playing it as we see it. Every South African team has big men in it and I'm better off going around them than through them. Traditionally, the provincial sides' role is to soften the Lions up, and both sides so far have not disappointed on the big and physical front. They have played hard and fair.

The team to play the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein tomorrow is announced today and the squad motto is that whoever wears the shirt has to raise the level, each game. Whoever plays, it will be the third game at altitude, and it has taken some getting used to. In the first week you'd be looking left and right in the warm-up and thinking, "Have I suddenly got very unfit or is everybody else struggling?" and you see everyone else with their hands on their knees and think, "Thank God I'm not the only one". It gets less noticeable day by day and it is just that at the start of matches you get a burn in your chest. Once you get your second wind, you're fine.

We've got one more game on the high veld in this first part of the tour and, hopefully, we'll see some great benefits in our fitness when we get down to sea level. The only other altitude effect is the ball stays in the air longer, so we are paying full attention to the kicking game.

Fake tan and dodgy 'taches

We had a few days in Rustenburg when we played the Royal XV. You'd step out into a bright blue-sky morning, with mountains and wildlife all around. There were these hilarious baboons wandering in, trying to nick the avocados off trees, and the hotel had two miniature Dobermanns to shoo them off.

On the Sunday there was a golf outing. We had buggies and caddies, which helped finding your ball – not that I missed a fairway, of course. Paul O'Connell, who played off four in his teens, gave the rest of us a chance as he was having a rub-down after a tough 80 minutes the day before. Stephen Ferris played off about 18, definitely in bandit territory, and his team won.

Phil Vickery was chuffed as he made it into the Gary Player room, for lifetime members, and he's been threatening to dress in black ever since. He needs to watch out, as the fines committee – Alun-Wyn Jones (he's training for the law, you know) and Matthew Rees – are quickly on to you for wearing the wrong kit. If you don't want to pay, you can roll a dice and take your chance of being made to wear fake tan, get your legs waxed or grow a dodgy moustache. No one has taken the dice option yet, but it was pointed out that Andy Powell is at an unfair advantage, as he goes in for all three "punishments" already.

Sad to hear that Bath's trio have quit the club

I've been fully wrapped up in the tour from day one, and was focused on playing the first two games when I heard the news from Bath that three players – Michael Lipman, Alex Crockett and Andrew Higgins – had left the club. I'll find out more when I get home and if I have any concerns, the main one is that the squad needs to be as strong if not stronger for next season. It's a shame to lose team-mates, I've played with them for several years and they're still good friends of mine. I expect I'll speak to them when I get back.

In association with Savanna cider, www.savannacider.co.uk

Comments