Double Lions tourist Phil Vickery admits he would ‘move oceans’ to be back in Oz with Britain and Ireland’s elite this summer.
The former England prop, who retired with neck problems in 2010, was part of the last tour Down Under 12 years ago when the Lions lost a heartbreaking series finale in Sydney.
Vickery went on to play in a further two Tests when the Lions headed to South Africa in 2009 and he knows those two southern hemisphere tours have ensured he will forever be a member of special group.
“My days are gone, I couldn’t do what those guys do today. But do I wish I could go on another Lions tour? Do I wish I could pull that jersey on again? I’d move oceans to do that,” said Vickery.
“That’s my love for the lions. Why is it so special? It’s so special because of the people who have gone before you. And I’m in that group now.”
Vickery began his senior career back in 1995, with his time at the top spanning both the amateur and professional eras.
Much has changed since he made his Gloucester debut 18 years ago but one thing has remained constant: the passion of the Lions is still unrivalled.
“Seeing a sea of red everywhere you went in 2001 was amazing,” added Vickery.
“Bearing in mind I’m a Cornish boy, I know what passion is. I played 11 years with Gloucester in front of The Shed so I know what passion is about – I get it, I know all about it.
“But my god, I don’t know any other sport that can to bring together the fiercest of rivals as one to celebrate together.
"The first Test in Brisbane at The Gabba is probably one of my greatest rugby memories and experiences. It was just phenomenal and I'd never experienced anything like it. The support, the euphoria, the expectations, the pressure, the history and everything that surrounds the Lions made it just a phenomenal thing to be involved in.
"You couldn't go anywhere without being stopped. I think I've got a pretty good relationship with all supporters, whether they are English, Scottish, Irish or Welsh, but being embraced and being part of that with the Lions was truly a privilege.
“Yes it’s about rugby, but it’s also about you as a person. To join forces with players from three other countries and to bear all – you can’t hide, you can’t pretend – that’s emotional.
“I don’t think that comes naturally to anybody, I just think it’s something you commit to. You say, ‘I’m here and I’m going to give it 100 per cent,’ because you don’t get second chances.
“I’m as passionate about the game today as when I first started. But professionalism can be sterile and it knocks the spirit out of you at times. It’s got to mean something, and that’s the case with the Lions.”
Phil Vickery believes the passion of Lions fans and players sets them apart in the professional era
That passion was accused of being tainted by petty arguments when the Lions were last in Australia, with newspaper columns and diary entries suggesting all was not well within Graham Henry’s camp.
But Vickery didn’t see it that way. For the then 24-year-old debutant it was the honour of representing the Lions and the quality of the tour itself rather than the supposed quarrelling that stands out among his almost endless bank of memories.
"I thoroughly enjoyed the tour, although ultimately it finished in disappointment with losing the final Test match and losing the series.
“To represent the Lions is the pinnacle. Playing for your club or for England in the World Cup and what have you is brilliant but to play for the British & Irish Lions, you can’t beat it. It’s the best accolade you can have as a player.
“I wasn’t aware of all the controversy with Graham Henry. I don’t know if it was because I was a young country bumpkin with my head down and didn’t worry about it because it was none of my business, but he was always great with me.
“Did he speak to me when I spoke to him? Yes. Did he say hello to me in the morning? Yes. That’s all I really wanted. Maybe I was a little bit green and oblivious to it all.
"It was a massive event overall. I was still reasonably young and it was something I always dreamed of. I watched Lions tours as a young man and I never really thought I would be involved in one.
"It was a fantastic experience, playing with Keith Wood and Tommy Smith in the front row. Obviously Dai Young was around and Scott Gibbs came out in the end, Brian O'Driscoll etc. There were a lot of big names and I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed it.”
Scotland's Tom Smith and Ireland's Keith Wood started all three Tests alongside Vickery in '01
Vickery’s time in Oz in ’01 taught him all about the Aussie psyche, both on and off the pitch, and he’s predicting a tough test for Lions but a wonderful touring adventure for players and supporters alike nonetheless.
“I like the Aussies, I think they’re fantastic. We can learn so much from them. Do you know what I love about them? They promote themselves: ‘come to our country, travel our country’. As a destination to tour, what else could you ever want from a country? Whatever you want it’s got it. It’s just a recipe for success.
“I’ve heard all about their Test team and people saying they’re not as powerful as they used to be but, if nothing else, when the Lions leave these shores, you can be sure of one thing: Australia will be ready for them. As a nation, they will be ready.
“It’s an opportunity to be a hero when you play against the Lions. Not just when you play for them but when you play against them. Love them or hate them, the Aussies will be right up for it.”