I'm on the bench for today's first match of the Lions tour, and to get the famous red jersey on early is great. To get it, anyway, is the culmination of a couple of years of hoping and contemplating that I'd make it on to this trip. It was humbling to board the night flight over here last Sunday and get that tingling feeling that I'm really a part of this thing that I've been waiting for for so long. Ian McGeechan said quite publicly that he would give everybody a start in the first three games, and with Ross Ford joining the squad late for Jerry Flannery, who got injured while we were still at home, it was pretty obvious I'd be involved in the first match.
It's was a thrill to get the call, though. The main aims for the forwards today are to get our line-out working, to go through our patterns and test out the new laws – or in some cases the old ones. It seems they give you one rule back and take another away. The maul is back, because you can't drag it down legally, but you can't seal off at the line-out. It used to be that the prop would lift the jumper then set up two people in front to block or "back-cradle" him and get distance from the opposition. It was the same on kick-offs. That's offside now and it's going to be entertaining for players and referees, figuring that out.
To begin with in training, everyone was swapping in to try different combinations, but today's front row of Andy Sheridan, Matthew Rees and Adam Jones trained as a unit in the last few days. Paul O'Connell, our captain, is straight into the action, no messing about. Training has been very much how we know the Wales and Wasps boys have done it before. Short, sharp sessions; working under pressure. Intensity, intensity, intensity. The forwards' coaches are Warren Gatland and Graham Rowntree, and it's been a good melting pot of ideas. And the way the atmosphere is, you want to get together after training, to chat and have a coffee and crank up the banter. Whichever team you play in, they all have their own idiosyncrasies in the scrum and it's just about finding out what works best for the Lions.
We try not to do fully opposed scrums often these days, it's more technical stuff, but I've definitely hit the machine about 50 times in a fortnight and we've got some monsters in the second row, so there's some nice weight coming through. The grounds are firm, and today's will be a fast track, but the grass is springy so you have a bit of grip when you're scrummaging. Mind you, training in mouldeds and playing in boots is two different things. Especially when I haven't played for three weeks, since the Premiership semi-final. Ask me after the game how many blisters I've got.
Hayden and Co seem to be in good form
They're sport-mad over here, which suits me fine. They've got the Lions on tour, they're running the football Confederations Cup in June, and we had the IPL cricketers staying in our hotel in Johannesburg. I bumped into Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist in the lobby, and I clocked Andrew Symonds in the lift, though I had to do a double take as he's shaved all that hair off. He didn't look too upset about being left out of the Ashes squad. His team had just been in the IPL final and he was in good form after a celebration.
Message from the missus
I've seen a fair amount of this vast country before, on a school tour, a trip with Bath and on my honeymoon with Danielle in 2004. Our anniversary is coming up and Danielle slipped a card into my luggage. At least I think that's what it is. Hopefully not a "Dear Lee" letter.
In fact, I've been chatting with – and seeing – Danielle and my 20-month-old son, Isaac, almost daily via the laptops we've been issued with, which come are complete with Skype and webcams. I guess that's something past tour squads would have loved to have had. There's that great story from the 1970s of the squad being asked to 'fess up to a huge phone bill run up by one player. The offending number was read out and, quick as a flash, a Welsh front-rower shouted out: "Oi, which one of you bastards has been phoning my wife!"
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