In his fourth Lions diary, Miles Harrison meets up with some true gents of the game and is confident that the Lions are on the right track despite their loss to the Brumbies...
Thursday 13th June
The Lions train this morning in the old, traditional surroundings of the North Sydney Oval - and the news on injuries is becoming the 'same old'. For George North, it is not greatly encouraging; when you think that he, Tommy Bowe and Manu Tuilagi are all fighting to be fit, there really is some size potentially being taken away from the Lions' armoury for the First Test. North is 50/50 at best - all Lions supporters hope for the right 50!
Becoming an even more important figure by the day then is Brian O'Driscoll. We bump into him in the area around the Opera House in the afternoon. He is quite simply the best player from our part of the world that I have ever had the privilege to commentate on so I really hope he gets the Lions ending he craves.
Walking back to the hotel, we bump into the former Australian full-back, Matt Burke - and, I must say, another true rugby gent. It's interesting to get his perspective on things and it's also interesting to hear that he has been using the red button service available on Fox Sports out here to listen to our Sky Sports commentary. I had better mind my 'p's and q's!
Friday 14th June
Apparently the Aussies are going to hand out gold safari hats to their supporters at the Tests in an effort to counter the Lions' red. But they are going to have to go some, as Sydney is really starting to see the influx of the British and Irish colours.
In the evening, I head off for a bit of the other code, taking the Manly ferry to see a rugby league game. It's the Sea Eagles versus the Canterbury Bulldogs and it is a cracking night.
A number of the Lions players are on the ferry, too, as they have had the same idea. And we chat with members of the Durham University rugby team on their tour to Australia as they have also taken time out to see the pros in action.
It all proves very worth it, not least because the man on the tannoy is nothing short of hilarious with his biased interjections and the match itself goes to the golden score. Even though they lose, controversially I might add, in years to come it will now always be, 'Go the Eagles!' for me.
Saturday 15th June
The day starts with another celebrity spot in the hotel and, honestly, normally I am absolutely immune to this sort of thing but it is Adam Gilchrist, the greatest wicketkeeper batsman that cricket has ever seen - so I make an excuse to get another orange whilst he is at the juice bar. Whisper it with the Ashes coming up but Gilchrist is a bit of a hero of mine.
As for the Lions, well they squeeze the juice out of the Waratahs with the most impressive display of the tour so far. Simon Zebo's first touch in a Lions jersey is almost the stuff of dreams but there is plenty more where that came from, both from Zebo and the rest of the team.
As a run-out, a week before the First Test, it doesn't get much better. That is, until the injury to Jamie Roberts. It is a cruel blow for him and the squad. Again, given the Aussie injury situation, nobody is going to be bleating too much but Roberts is a big man in this tour party and the backs are starting to drop.
Still, as we retire for the day, we are not entirely sure of the extent of the injury. Even the good doctor himself, Jamie doesn't actually know, as he's not experienced a hamstring pull before. But, those very words, 'hamstring' and 'pull' put a cloud over what has otherwise been a very satisfying night.
Sunday 16th June
Wedding anniversary and Father's Day today all rolled into one - so a bit of a tough one to be away for those two but I'm used to it; it happens just about every year, as we nearly always tour in June.
Skype doesn't half help. Still, that's for later, the girls are going to bed back home as the alarm goes for me, signalling it's time to get up for the Lions' Sunday morning news conference.
Mind you, I think I am still sleeping when I hear the news that makes the whole of the room gasp, and some even chuckle, as Shane Williams' name is read out as part of the side to take on the Brumbies in Canberra on Tuesday. This is not because there is any doubt over Shane Williams' greatness as a player - it is just that it was one of those stories that we simply didn't see coming.
Tour manager, Andy Irvine, insists that Shane's inclusion is just for the one match. My mind goes back to Hong Kong when I saw Shane and he was so bullish about a three-nil Lions series win. Now, he is part of the tour - he had not envisaged that and nor had we.
Off to Canberra we go - via a vineyard for Sunday lunch and a bit of R & R - not a bad life, eh?
Monday 17th June
It's time to digest the morning papers here in Canberra and the Brumbies coach, Jake White, is clearly up for it and talking very positively about his team. So he should after how they have played in Super Rugby this season. White is clearly doing a terrific job.
Jake is also quoted as being aggrieved that the Brumbies have been given a midweek game again on this tour and not a Saturday one. However, the plain economics of it all seems to me to justify the two non-Test Saturday fixtures on this Australian leg as the Reds and the Waratahs.
They were, after all, sell-outs and I'm not sure the Brumbies, even with their smaller ground, will quite get to their sell-out figure. However, I do feel that this has the potential to be the toughest contest of the tour outside of the series.
The ground is where I'm heading next for the ACT captain's run to catch up with Jake and his team. The Brumbies look good in training and their squad is clearly deep. To my mind, this is always going to be the big banana skin outside the Tests and I see nothing to change that view. It is also very cold - note to self, put on thermals tomorrow!
In the evening, it's a chance to see an old friend. For a season some years ago, he batted and kept wicket (not quite Gilchrist but he did it very well indeed) for my club cricket side back home. Dean is now back in his native Australia working as a horse racing journalist/analyst. It's great to catch up and talk about some of the old times.
Just as I return to the hotel, I get a text from our current captain who informs me that victory on Sunday has made it eight wins from eight this season....missing me then!
Tuesday 18th June
The storm on our arrival at the Canberra Stadium is a beauty - the hailstones white-out the scene and the lightning and thunder are right overhead. Come the kick-off, the storm has passed, however, the Brumbies are ready to whip up one of their own and it is clear from the off that this is not going to be an easy night for the Lions.
The set-piece struggles, especially the line-out - no talking about keeping things in the locker here, this was just basics not going well enough. The new arrivals in the backs are consequently on the back foot and they look exactly what they are, very new to the squad and its plans.
Take nothing away from the Brumbies, they are excellent and show why they have been Australia's top side this season - there is a clear depth in their ranks as we saw at training.
The Lions claw their way back in but nobody can deny that the Brumbies deserve the win and, perhaps more pertinently, the Lions do not. It is the 'folklore' night that Jake White had been talking of. For the Lions, it is a major kick up the you know where.
We have a drink with our Fox Sports colleagues in the hotel after the game and all our minds turn to Saturday. Of course, tonight's result will have no real bearing on the outcome in Brisbane and the Tests are, after all, what this is all about. But, the unbeaten record is gone and the Wallabies will have watched and noted the job done by Jake White's team.
Wednesday 19th June
It's a travel day from Canberra to Brisbane. The Lions are on our flight, as is the England Head Coach, Stuart Lancaster, who has popped in on his way home after his team's very successful tour to South America.
I use the time in the air to go through my Australia versus Lions records and start my notes for Saturday's commentary - but you don't really want to know about that. And, when we get to Brisbane, we are all excited about being able to sort out our washing! And, you really don't want or need to know about that either!
However, tomorrow's commitment list might just interest you - Australia training in the morning, Lions team announcement at lunchtime and Wallabies team announcement in the afternoon. The days that we have been waiting for and thinking about for such a long time are now nearly upon us.
Despite what happened in Canberra, and maybe even more so because of it, I'm sticking with the Lions - they can do this. But, of course, we haven't seen Australia yet and they haven't even officially revealed their hand.
The home nation will undoubtedly feel more confident after the Brumbies efforts but I don't think, come the seventy minute mark on Saturday, we will be talking at all about what happened in Canberra. It is all about Saturday now and I'll speak to you from the commentary box at Suncorp. Can't wait!
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Rob Mellin says...
Stephen Morton, If you think 8 welsh Lions is too many, who would you have replace them?
Posted 12:19 21st June 2013
Stephen Morton says...
I just baffled by the pundits across sky thinking the lions will win, anyone I talk to reckon a thrashing by the Aussies is on the cards, 8 welsh have tasted defeat 8 times out of the last 9 times they have played the Aussies, this lions team haven't played once together, folau against cuthbert, think we all kmow the winner there. Hope I'm wrong but a 15 point win for the Aussies won't surprise me in the slightest
Posted 21:31 20th June 2013
Roger Hale says...
I agree - this looks a winning team - but there must be no more excuses. I am sure the Lions we will not fail because of any lack of effort from any of the players. But if they fail on Saturday (and lose the Series) it will be down to one man - and one man alone!
Posted 14:35 20th June 2013
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