It starts now.
The Lions have had all the suit fittings, collected all their kit and attended countless press conferences and now it is time to stop the talking and get out there.
The Lions' first fixture may be against the Barbarians in Hong Kong but, make no mistake, the Tour starts here; Justin Tipuric, who will start at seven in the absence of Sam Warburton, summed up the excitement when he said he had to pinch himself after being selected to make his Lions debut.
So what can we expect from the Lions' first game on tour? Well, what I expect a very comfortable Lions victory; I don't think it will be a pretty match, but it will be effective and a good hit out.
I think we are going to see a robust set-piece game-plan from Warren Gatland's side because that's his way. They'll be very strong up front and structurally very good in the scrum, lineout and restart, while Gatland also likes to have these big runners in the side to get over the gainline.
To beat Australia you have to have an out-and-out seven. That is why Robshaw did not make the tour and why Tipuric did.
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Jonathan Davies and Jamie Roberts will be central to that and have done great things for Wales, but they have got Manu Tuilagi and Brian O'Driscoll for competition so they will need big performances.
Owen Farrell at No 10 will be interesting; he is known for his kicking but when it does break up a little bit there is still a question mark next to his name: Can he really ignite a backline?
Elsewhere, full-back Stuart Hogg was lethal for Scotland and I want him to be lethal for the Lions - but, for me, the main area of concern with Warburton's injury is how Tipuric goes at seven.
To beat Australia you have to have an out-and-out seven; that is why Chris Robshaw did not make the tour and why Tipuric did.
It is a team game as we all know but the key individuals have to be calling the shots; the control at 10, the ball-winning and ball-denying at seven and then what the centres and full-back can do.
This is not a game they are looking to win by 40 or 50 points. If the Barbarians are that bad then fine, but they should not be because they have a quality side and everyone has a lot of pride, not just in the Lions' jersey, but in the Barbarians', too.
If I were Gatland I would have said to Dai Young, the Barbarians coach, 'please give us the biggest test you possibly can in the tight and smash into us for 80 minutes to prepare for Australia'.
The scrum is the one area of supposed weakness for Australia; they are not renowned for being big scrummagers in their Super Rugby sides or their international sides and they are more about a fluid game.
Going back to the time of George Gregan, it was all about a multi-phase approach to the game where the restarts, scrums and lineouts were just a way to start the game.
They've changed a little bit but Will Genia, like Gregan, is a fine warrior around the base as well and if the Lions don't get the setpiece right, then they have no chance in Australia.
If the forwards don't produce the ball well the backs are not going to do anything with it. It is a very simple game: you give the backs the ball when it is going forward.
I sincerely hope the Barbarians will be a lot better than they were against England as some of the play last Sunday was not good enough; England did play well but I want a bit more fire in the bellies of the Baabaas.
They are a social club, which I have been part of, and that is fine. But they have to have a serious hit out against the Lions and can do the partying after the game in Hong Kong. They will do that because they are playing for the history of the Baabaas.
For the Lions it is even bigger; they are potentially playing for their future.
These Lions have a chance to do something that has not been done since 1997 when they take on Australia in the three Test series. They are, honestly, desperate for a series victory.
Otherwise it becomes a bit of a forgone conclusion. New Zealand are up next and then South Africa after that. They are very difficult places to go and the Lions need a win otherwise questions will be asked.
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Steve O'connor says...
In my assesment, I can not see anything except a Lions triumph and here's why - 1) The Australian Rugby enviromnent has been through disaster after disaster in the past 18 months. No names need be mentioned, but certain individuals seem to think they are untouchable. Delinquents is what some of them appear to be. 2) The Lions are going down with a massive pack and scrum that will tear into even the All Blacks / Boks. While not a cake walk, I believe this to be a very solid launching pad that we are naturally stronger at 3) We are as strong and united in the journey to a successful Lions tour as the Ozzies are mentally fragile. Gatland - a Kiwi - will know how to get to them at the breakdown! I see a victory lads, lets just hope I'm not colour blind!
Posted 17:34 31st May 2013
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