Lions loom large

Three of the potential stars of the next Lions tour are already looking forward to what should be a truly memorable event. [more]

Lions loom large

Three of the potential stars of the next Lions tour are already looking forward to what should be a truly memorable event.

Australian trio James O’Connor, David Pocock and Will Genia look set to shine for the Wallabies when the Lions head Down Under in 2013.

Star utility back O’Connor, influential openside Pocock and lightening-quick scrum-half Genia are already among the globe’s best players but even they admit that testing themselves against the might of Britain and Ireland’s elite will be another step in their development.

O’Connor was only 10 and Pocock and Genia just 13 when the Lions last travelled to Australia so all three are acutely aware that what lies around the corner really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“The Lions tour will be great for rugby in Australia,” said Pocock, who could well have stolen Richie McCaw’s mantle of the world’s supreme No7 by the time the Lions come calling.

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“It’s definitely something to look forward to. Two seasons is a long-time in rugby terms but it’s certainly something that has been talked about amongst the players.

“It’s had an impact in terms of players staying in Australia. It’s been talked about by the players and it’s definitely something players want to be around for. The more players we have playing in Australia and available for selection, the better. All those players will be looking to be at their best come selection time in 2013.

“As our coach Robbie Deans has said, it’s something that only comes around once in your career if you’re really lucky. It’s a huge challenge and the fact that it only happens once every 12 years just adds to that.”

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David Pocock sees facing the Lions as a massive challenge

The last time the Lions made their way to the former colony, the world witnessed one of the most exciting series in living memory.

The two sides produced three thrilling matches in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, with the outcome in the balance right until the final lineout when Justin Harrison stole possession from under the nose of Lions skipper Martin Johnson in the dying moments of the third rubber.

A similar story in a year-and-a-half’s time would make for another crowd-pleasing encounter, with Genia desperate to play his part in a second successive Wallaby triumph.

“The buzz the last time the Lions came here was amazing. I watched it as a kid and the contest itself and the quality of players who came over and got together as a group was so impressive,” added Genia.

“The thing that really stuck with me was how much of a contest it was. There were three great games. Australia were good enough on the day then but I’ll guess we’ll have to wait and see what will happen in 2013. If we do end up playing good footy that year, it’ll make for a great contest again.

“The biggest thing for the Lions is the youth that’s coming through in the Welsh side, and in the English side, then you’ve got players in Ireland and Scotland as well. Put together, they make a great team so it’s going to be tough, but I’m already looking forward to it.

“I think it was 27,000 people who expressed an interest in watching the games on the day the 2013 fixtures were announced late last year. It’s an Australia-wide tour and it’s good that everyone can see it and be a part of it.

“It’s definitely unique. When you look back at your career, you really want to be a part of those type of tests.”

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James O'Connor and Will Genia should both face the Lions in 2013

The 2001 series Down Under had a major effect on Genia but it was only be a brief childhood memory for O’Connor and Pocock.

The former Western Force team-mates only have fleeting recollections of the first fully professional Lions tour but the most recent adventure in South Africa certainly grabbed their full attention.

O’Connor and Pocock only made their Wallaby debuts the year before the Lions took on the Springboks in Durban, Pretoria and Johannesburg but they were both hugely impressed with what they saw on and off the field.

“The most recent tour to South Africa was huge,” continued Pocock, after telling me how Jason Robinson’s stunning first-Test try 11 years ago is his over-riding memory of the last Lions adventure in Oz.

“Just looking at the crowds for the Tests, you can see that the support the Lions get can change games.

“With the number of people from the UK and Ireland living in Australia, they’ll get on their red gear and get out to the games in 2013. That definitely adds a fair bit to the atmosphere, plus there’s the media attention that goes with a tour like that.”

The Lions lost their last Test series 2-1 to the Boks but there is no doubting the fact that they put British and Irish Rugby back on the map.

The series whitewash in New Zealand four years earlier had been a damaging experience for the Lions brand but the nature of their performances in South Africa impressed critics and fans alike all across both hemispheres.

“My memories of the 2001 tour are pretty vague as I was pretty young although I do remember sitting on my grandma’s rug watching a few games!” said O’Connor.

“But I watched a fair bit of the South African tour in 2009.

“That series came right down to the wire and there were lots of tries scored so it was pretty entertaining as well.

“That was some of the best rugby I’ve ever seen.”

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