Four years ago I was sitting in my mate's car on Penarth Pier listening to the radio as the Lions squad was read out. That was brutal. It was more comfortable this time around but it was just as nerve-wracking. We finished training at Cardiff Blues and all filed into the team room where the big screen had Sky Sports on. We sat there and watched the names being read out.
It's very public and pretty ruthless, but I do think it's a fantastic way of announcing the team. It gets players on edge and so, when your name is read out, it makes the feeling all the better, although for the guys who were not selected it makes it even worse.
As a second-time Lion the emotions were different. This time it was more relief that you have made it rather than the pure excitement of a first-timer. I would have been disappointed not to be involved. Four years ago I was only 22 and still pretty much the newcomer. I'm a lot more experienced now than I was for South Africa, with four solid years of international rugby in the bank. But honestly, I still feel absolutely incredible – it's been a pretty special couple of weeks with my doctor's exam results as well.
I'm coming at it from a different perspective now – I'm 26 this time, no longer one of the junior guys. There are a lot of younger boys coming to Australia and it was amazing to see some of their emotions on Monday. I was with Alex Cuthbert and he shed a tear. The speed at which he has come through in his first couple of seasons of professional rugby is similar to what I did four years ago. Seeing his reaction brought those emotions back and hammers home how special it is.
To go on another Lions tour is special – but look at the likes of Gethin Jenkins going on his third tour, Brian O'Driscoll his fourth. That is what we are all striving for.
Brian is just vastly experienced, and when it comes to the centres, basically he's the father with his three disciples alongside! Jonathan Davies and Manu Tuilagi have had fantastic seasons, both are huge attacking and defensive weapons. The competition is intense, whether it's in the centres or across the squad, and you have to show your credentials as soon as you get out there.
Much has been made of the number of Welsh players in the squad. I have no doubt Warren Gatland has chosen on merit – he's an honest guy and wouldn't do it any other way. It's up to us now to repay that faith he has shown in the Welsh contingent, go to Australia and do the jersey proud. There are plenty of famous faces who have worn the jersey over the years, Welsh, Irish, English and Scots, and you have to keep the tradition going. We have to go out there and aim towards the ultimate goal: winning the Test series.
It is a long time since the Lions have won one, 16 years now, although we came agonisingly close in South Africa four years ago. It was one of the toughest defeats I have ever had to take, especially that second match at Loftus when Morné Steyn ended a brutal contest by winning it with the last kick from inside his own half. I feel I have unfinished business in a Lions shirt.
Wearing that shirt is different. On the pitch it is international rugby, with all the demands that makes, but the added hype surrounding the teams is amazing. It is a unique experience in what happens on and off the pitch – seeing all those fans who were heckling each other a month ago joining forces. It makes for a one-off atmosphere among fans and players as well. You train and play with guys you have only ever lined up against. The beauty of it is you have two or three weeks to get to know them as well as you can, bond and get on with each other off the pitch – if you can do that it will then reflect well on the pitch.
It is a real chance to further your own rugby education. You learn a lot from players you haven't played with. Many of them have been exposed to different environments and different coaches and you can pick up so much. I'm looking forward to working with Andy Farrell in particular. He is well respected in the England camp for his defence work and, as the defensive captain of the Welsh side, it should be an interesting experience.
When the squad was announced on Monday the coaching staff flagged up our game against England in March as a key moment in deciding the line-up, and from a personal point of view that match certainly felt like a turning point. As far as the Six Nations goes, the first three, four games were disappointing for the back line. The weather didn't help and so it was fantastic to play against England under a closed roof and finally display what we have been working hard on in training. That fixture was a very special one to be involved in. It probably made Warren's mind up in a few positions. But getting selected is only the first hurdle.
Next comes the first get-together, a week and a half from now, when we will get the initial indication of how Warren wants us to play. He has coached Wales for a while now and we have had a certain style of play. He's picked players who he feels can do a job in the style of rugby he prefers, guys who can take the game to the opposition. But as players we haven't got a clue yet what he plans to do in Australia. First up the most important thing is to get everyone singing off the same hymn sheet, get clarity in what we are trying to do as quickly as possible in the short time we have together as a team before the matches start. I can't wait.Reuse content