Phil Vickery believes Lions players and supporters alike will head Down Under in high spirits in 2013.
Britain and Ireland’s elite travel to Australia in 17 months time looking for a first series victory since 1997.
But despite the disappointment of three successive defeats to the giants of the southern hemisphere, Vickery is convinced the enthusiasm garnered by the Lions is as great as ever.
The former England prop was part of a 2009 tour to South Africa that re-established the Lions as a significant force and helped soften the blow of a series whitewash back in 2005.
And having also seen first-hand the incredible crowds and atmosphere generated by Lions supporters in Australia during his debut tour in 2001, he is expecting more of the same next time around.
“The 2013 tour isn’t that far away now. It’s the ultimate as a player and the ultimate as a supporter, too,” said Vickery, who won five Lions Test caps and made a total of 13 appearances across two tours.
“There are so many people that I know who didn’t go out to the World Cup because they’re saving to go on the Lions tour. Lions tours are so special and that’s especially true with Australia. It’s such a great country to go to as a tourist and a supporter.
“As a player, Lions tours are phenomenal, too. My first-ever Test for the Lions at the Gabba in Brisbane was probably the most amazing rugby experience I’ve ever had. That was because of the crowd; because you’re involved with the Lions; and because you’re bringing four countries together.
“As always with the Australians, they came out in their droves in 2001 and really got behind their team. It was a fantastic experience. You have to remember that rugby is the third or fourth sport over there. It’s actually quite unique for them to have a tour like this and I think it will raise the profile of the game over there once again.”
Phil Vickery (left) knows what it's like to tour Australia with the Lions
The Lions will arrive in Australia having won their most recent Test match thanks to a stunning success in the third international against the Springboks two summers ago.
That 28-9 drubbing of the then World Champions in Johannesburg was a massive morale booster for Britain and Ireland’s elite, especially as it came on the back of seven Test defeats in a row dating back to the first rubber a decade ago.
Sir Ian McGeechan’s men had only just lost out in Tests one and two in 2009 but victory in the closing match of the tour helped to add some sparkle to an adventure that Vickery believes put the Lions well and truly back on the international map.
“The experience in 2009 was magical as well. We did everything but win the bloody series,” added Vickery.
“What happened in 2005, with the disastrous tour to New Zealand, left a really sour feeling among people in terms of how that was handled and ultimately in the results against the All Blacks.
“I sincerely hope that 2009 restored a huge amount of pride and a sense of reality back to the Lions shirt. I think the supporters appreciated that. I know we didn’t win the Test series but I think we put a lot of pride back into the Lions jersey and that’s ultimately what we set out to achieve.
“In my final game for the Lions, being on that pitch having won the third Test was just such an amazing feeling, it really, really was.
“There’s nothing like winning a Lions Test. I’m very lucky to have won my first one and won my last one – I finished on a high.”
Vickery was part of the team for the third-Test win in 2009
With the fixtures for the 2013 tour having been announced last month, the focus will soon turn towards who will be named head coach for the latest crusade south.
Lions team manager Andy Irvine has stated that he hopes to announce the successful candidate after the forthcoming RBS 6 Nations, with all the current Home Nations bosses in the running for the role.
Vickery is in favour of continuity given the time pressures faced by the Lions on a tour itself and he believes the likes of Warren Gatland, Graham Rowntree and Rob Howley did themselves plenty of favours out in South Africa.
“I thought the build up to the last tour was particularly good. I thought Ian McGeechan, Warren Gatland and the other coaches were exceptional.
“The coaches really built a rapport with the players. It’s not just about the player – it’s about the person. It’s how about how that person fits into the team. You have to make sacrifices because there are so many ideas but you have to have one goal and that’s to win games.
"I've done two Lions tours and I think Warren Gatland would be a fantastic candidate to do it again. And I hope he does. He's a guy who I have the utmost respect for.
"Warren's a typical Kiwi. He's honest, sometimes brutally, but you can be honest back. He gets the guys together and gets the best out of people. I really hope he does it again because it's very, very special.
“Warren’s achievements speak for themselves but the guy who really impressed me more than anyone was Rob Howley. I thought he was outstanding in the way he coached and got on with his work. I know Rob and know he’s a great guy but I thought he showed himself to be a great coach. Graham Rowntree did a great job as well and Shaun Edwards is Shaun Edwards.”