If the Lions are to repeat the feat of their 1997 predecessors and be successful in South Africa next summer, England flanker Lewis Moody believes lessons will have to be learnt from the 2005 defeat to New Zealand.
Criticisms were made of the lack of combined game time given to the starting XV for the first Test against the All Blacks and the Leicester back row feels that familiarity, both on and off the field, will be a key part of any potential series victory.
"One of the disappointments of the last Lions tour was that we never went in with a set idea of who was going to start," said Moody, who featured in both the second and third Tests in Wellington and Auckland three years ago.
"You need to give that team a couple of games and see how they get on. If someone is really performing out of their skin then they need to come in. But you’ve got to have an idea, otherwise your combinations don’t get time to work with each other."
Moody believes the Lions is something special and that what works elsewhere doesn’t necessarily bear fruit in such a unique environment.
"Sir Clive (Woodward) tried to look at rugby like a business, and with England that worked really well. The Lions ethos is completely different. It’s about coming together over a very short period of time and making the most of it. It’s almost like the Barbarians. It’s a case of just trying to get the lads to gel and get on with each other very quickly.
"It’s a difficult thing to do. You’re taking on the best teams in the world with a team that’s only had a few weeks training together, ever. It’s getting more and more of a challenge for the Lions to go out there and compete and play well.
"You’ve still got the best players in Britain and Ireland in that side, though, so you’ve just got to try and keep a simple game plan and, more importantly, you’ve got to get the guys bonding. If the guys are getting on and enjoying playing with each other, then it’s going to be that little bit easier."
Lewis Moody first wore a Lions shirt against Argentina in Cardiff
Moody himself had a head start when it came to familiarity as he travelled to New Zealand with seven Leicester colleagues after Neil Back, Martin Corry, Ben Kay, Geordan Murphy, Graham Rowntree, Ollie Smith and Julian White were also named in the largest Lions touring party ever to leave these shores. He is keen to stress, however, that, as well as being essential to your chances of success, becoming friends with players who are normally enemies is one of the real joys of a Lions tour.
"It was nice to go with a group of lads that you know. Some of them, like Geordie (Geordan Murphy), were my close mates, so it makes the whole experience a little bit easier because you’ve got a group of guys around you that you’re comfortable with.
"You’ve got to get on with people. At Leicester you play with the guys day in day out. You know everyone and you’re friendly with everyone. Not all of them are your best mates, but you get on with them.
"It is an incredible experience playing for the Lions. You get to meet, play with and train with guys that you spend years trying to hate because you’ve got to beat Ireland, Scotland or Wales at the weekend. It was nice to get to know them and realise that they’re all decent blokes just doing exactly the same thing as you are, playing hard and trying to win.
"There are always a few guys on tour that you get really close to and you enjoy their company. Stephen Jones was a good lad – he was a funny man – and so was Ryan Jones. Gareth Thomas was one of the biggest jokers I think I’ve ever met – he just loves a good craic. I got on well with a lot of the Welsh boys and Martyn Williams is a top man. I keep in touch with a few of them but you generally catch up again on game day.
"When you go back to the Six Nations, you enjoy it a little bit more. Afterwards, you can have a chat and you can give them a few digs and a bit of banter during the game. It’s more enjoyable when you’ve spent a bit of time with those guys and you know what they’re about. You know that they’re prepared to work as hard as you."
Moody emerged from the bottom of this pile as a Lions tryscorer in 2005
Moody toured New Zealand as an England regular in 2005 but he travelled to the Land of the Long of the Long White Cloud knowing that he would have to prove himself all over again if he was to make the Lions Test team. First, an injury during the build up to the tour almost prevented his selection for the 46-man squad, before another knee injury during the tour itself meant he wasn’t considered for the first Test in Christchurch.
"The lead up to the squad announcement was a nervous wait," explained the 30-year-old, who currently has 53 caps for his country to his name.
"I’d done my knee ligaments playing Toulouse about four weeks before so I was pretty nervous about whether I was going to be included or not.
"Backy (Neil Back) had just retired from international rugby, so I’d been involved with England all that year. I was in no way confident that I was going to start but I thought I’d be there or thereabouts. In one training session, I damaged my knee ligaments again and that was two weeks or so before the first Test. I was due to play the week before that Test and I’d been going quite well until that point, so that would have given me a shot at the first international, but it wasn’t to be.
"I tried getting back fit enough in time but I couldn’t so I missed that first Test. Things didn’t go that well and they had to change it for the second Test and, thankfully for me, I was straight back in. I played in the second and third Tests and absolutely loved every minute of it."
Injury struck Moody again during England’s Six Nations encounter with Wales last February, forcing him to miss his club’s domestic and European commitments and his country’s summer tour and recent autumn internationals.
Despite being named in Martin Johnson’s first Elite Player Squad, Achilles and hip problems took longer than anticipated to heal, meaning the former Oakham schoolboy spent eight months on the sidelines before making his long-awaited comeback against Sale Sharks in the EDF Energy Cup on October 31. His appearance against the same opposition in the Guinness Premiership last Friday was his fourth in succession and he could now soon be pressing for his claims for Lions inclusion in 2009.
"The Lions is always a part of your ambition but just getting back fit and playing for Leicester was the key. The Lions is almost a bonus. It’s a unique experience and if I get to go again, I’ll enjoy it just as much.
"It comes at the end of a long season and so many things can happen in between. You can get injured or you can get dropped and if you worry too much about being selected for the Lions, then you’ll end up knackering yourself because you’ll be doing too much and trying too hard.
"All you’ve got to do is go out and enjoy your rugby day-in, day-out with your club. If you’re playing well then the coaches will hopefully pick you. If they don’t, then you’ll have done everything you can to persuade them."
A 3-0 series defeat wasn’t the way Moody wanted to remember New Zealand
If Moody does earn selection for his second successive Lions tour, he won’t be expecting an easy ride. The World Cup winner knows that the Springboks will have spent 12 years waiting to avenge their most-recent loss to the Lions and that the 2009 tourists could feel the backlash from a proud rugby nation.
"The last Lions victory was in 1997 against South Africa, so I’m sure they’ll be out to prove a point this time around.
"South Africans are an interesting breed. It’s always a good encounter when you get to play them. It’s always tough and you know what you’re going to come up against.
"South Africa is a tough place to tour. It’s like New Zealand because they are all about rugby. Their sporting mind is completely rugby based. They love it. It’s a culture and a religion out there and it’s as tough a place to tour as any."