The dark arts, the elbow in the face, a knee in the ribs or a pinch under the armpit, have always been part of rugby and to some extent always will be. But for all the headlines they will attract when allegations like those made against Cian Healy arise, biting or gouging are thankfully not a regular feature of the game and in the professional era it is becoming ever more common that players get punished for it.
What goes on at the bottom of rucks does not stay at the bottom of rucks these days with players by and large quickly caught out, cited and, if the evidence stacks up, punished. I have never come across much of the nasty stuff, certainly not in my playing days in the Premiership when there were not as many cameras on the game as we have now. Sometimes people just lose their heads as I experienced playing against Samoa in 2005 at Twickenham.
I was once on the receiving end, during a club match in Italy. An opponent dug a finger into one of my eyes and it caused me to lose my head. The referee didn't see it – it was back in the early 2000s and there were not so many cameras, technology or miked-up officials. I lost my rag and went after this guy. Within five minutes I was trudging off to the sin bin because I had got myself in such a rage.
With citing commissioners to back up good refereeing it has helped make the game cleaner. It's an area of the game you never want to see – it is defenceless, a needless act of violence. This is a contact sport, a physical game and there will be tempers riled and people will end up having a pop occasionally, grabbing round the shirt collar or a clip around the ear. That's what happens in a competitive, physical environment – but you don't want to see the nasty side, biting, gouging. There is no place for it in the game. When you are at the bottom of a ruck you are defenceless.
Discipline is so important for the Lions. Over the years the trait of the home teams against the Lions has always been to send those midweek teams out and give them a good battering, try and make them lose their cool and it is up to the Lions' players to deal with it. In 1997 the midweek games were just brutal. I remember Tim Rodber being provoked into a full-on fight with his opposite number. In 2001 Ronan O'Gara took a horrible beating in Australia but there is less of it as rugby has moved deeper into the professional era. There will be plenty of verbal intimidation on Saturday and throughout the tour but these guys are all too aware of what's at stake. Warren Gatland has spoken about it and hammered it into the players.
It's about keeping your head when the pressure is on, whether it be mental or physical. That can be difficult sometimes, especially when you are embroiled in the heat of battle or things are going against you. There are plenty of young guys in the Lions squad and they have coped well so far but the tests get tougher from Saturday onwards and it will get more physical. The Lions must keep their heads.
Frustrated Warburton desperate for a stormer
By the end of Saturday's game every fit player in the squad will have started a game and the picture will become a lot clearer. As I'm an old Leicester boy and have been part of their early careers and watched them come through the ranks, it will be a proud moment to see the Youngs brothers run out onto the pitch together in the red shirts.
This will be the first serious test for the Lions, against a Queensland Reds side including Quade Cooper. Tommy Bowe is the only surprise choice, having played against Western Force three days earlier. But he has not played a huge amount of rugby in recent months so perhaps they want to ensure his match fitness is where it should be.
Sam Warburton finally getting his first start is so important. He will have been champing at the bit to have his say in what is possibly the most competitive area of the team. There are strong claimants for that seven shirt – let alone across the back row as a whole – in Justin Tipuric and Sean O'Brien. I would really like to see O'Brien get a go at eight, where the ball carrying he offers is immense. He is a tough, hard ball carrier but there is plenty more to his game. His distribution is excellent; against Force some of his passing was outstanding. Sam is going to desperately want to have a blinder of a game having sat there and watched those two play so well in the first two matches. He has to get out there and have a stormer.
It is also good to see Dan Lydiate playing his way back – he needs all the game time he can get. When a guy has been out for a while he is never quite sure where he will be when he comes back – will it take a couple of games or a couple of months to get that snap back? It's such an exciting back row – Jamie Heaslip has started strongly at No 8 as well so Toby Faletau has to keep it coming.
Combinations are the key on a Lions tour. Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton played well together against Force and it will be interesting to see how another one-nation pairing gets on in Brisbane with Owen Farrell and Ben Youngs. They know each other inside out and played well together over the Six Nations and the autumn. Farrell's kicking has been good but then look at Leigh Halfpenny – 11 out of 11, a record even Jonny Wilkinson would be happy with!
Halfpenny and George North were tireless on Wednesday. I love the way North goes looking for work – he pops up in rucks, picks and goes, although he is the size of a forward… I was so impressed with his work rate and his work ethic.
I would have liked to have seen a better challenge put up to the Lions but they can only beat what is in front of them and so far so good. The weekend will be a much tougher test and they need it because those Test matches against Australia are going to be tough, brutally intense. Now the tour is really going to get going.
ESPN Classic continues its extensive Lions programming every night at 9pm. Airing Friday night is 'Being a Lion', featuring interviews with several legends, including Martin Johnson and Lawrence Dallaglio. Visit: espnclassic.com for details