England veteran Neil Back is ready to pen a memorable final chapter of his illustrious World Cup-winning career – and create British & Irish Lions history in the process.
Back, 37 next January, has already achieved a landmark feat as the oldest player ever selected for an original Lions tour squad.
But now he could be just 80 minutes away from clinching a Test match place after starting the tour trailing in RBS 6 Nations player of the season Martyn Williams’ slipstream.
Leicester flanker Back’s degree of difficulty was already acute enough, yet he compounded the task by landing a four-week ban for punching ex-England colleague Joe Worsley during last month’s Zurich Premiership final at Twickenham.
But the Lions’ defeat against the New Zealand Maori on Saturday means Back has a golden opportunity, with coach Sir Clive Woodward predicting a "super-charged" performance from him against Wellington on Wednesday.
"Everyone is playing for very big stakes, so it is no different for me. I haven’t been able to play so far, and now, this will be my first opportunity," said Back.
"As everyone is aware, after this tour my playing career is over and I will be coaching next year (with Leicester), but I see myself very much as a player at the moment.
"It has been fantastic to join up with the lads, and I’ve learnt a lot, even at my time in life, and I am enjoying the experience tremendously.
"I enjoy playing the game so much. I have always looked after myself and tried to keep ahead, even in the amateur era. I’ve tried to push the boundaries.
"It has been difficult, I am not the greatest watcher of games, but I have had to go through that because of what happened at the end of the season.
"I think it has given me a little bit of an advantage because I have been able to hook up with the guys in training and get away from the knocks and bangs for a couple of weeks. I’ve had a heavy season, and the rest has done me good."
The Maori defeat highlighted weaknesses in the breakdown/contact area, but Back has proved himself a past-master in that critical confrontation zone throughout a career that has spanned 66 England caps, three Lions tours and more than 300 Leicester appearances.
"The breakdown is an area the whole team needs to sort out," added Back.
"Gone are the days when it is purely the number seven’s role. You can’t play without the ball, and it is better playing with quick ball, so we need to concentrate on that area.
"The star position in this country seems to be the seven, rather than the number 10, as it is back home. Without question, it is a key position in the teams down here, and it one that I and the back-row have just got to combat.
"It is a huge challenge for me, but one that I have met before and come out on the winning side, so I don’t fear it at all. I am just looking forward to that challenge and getting back to playing on Wednesday.
"We have been progressing steadily, but you have got to remember that the players haven’t played together that often. We are starting to build relationships and partnerships in all areas.
"We were well beaten by the Maori the other night, but don’t write this Lions team off yet.
"In 1997, we lost to the Blue Bulls and won the Test series in South Africa, and four years later, we lost to Australia A and won the first Test and should have won the series.
"We’ve got to learn quickly because the Test series looms, but I am very confident this team can bounce back and return to winning ways."