England back rower James Haskell says Lions selection is ‘the elephant in the room’ as Warren Gatland’s squad announcement grows ever closer.
Gatland is set to name his chosen few on April 30 but talk of who will be in and who will be out has dominated much of the national and local press since the RBS 6 Nations drew to a close in mid-March.
Haskell is in with a shout given his international experience and his time spent playing in the Super XV with the Highlanders last year but he admits he’s excited about what lies ahead in Hong Kong and Australia regardless of whether he gets the nod from Gatland.
“As the end of this season approaches, the elephant is in the room. The topic being touched upon with baited breath in all the sports sections of all the newspapers: what for me is the pinnacle of rugby, the British & Irish Lions tour to Australia,” Haskell wrote in the Rugby Paper.
“From my perspective one of the greatest and most satisfying things you can achieve in your rugby career, is to represent your country. It was a dream come true for me, the moment I pulled on that white shirt with all it stands for: honour, passion and hard work.
“However, it is my belief that selection for the Lions transcends even this and elevates representation on to a whole new level. There can be no higher honour in rugby terms than being invited to tour with the Lions squad. So very few achieve this accolade that the mere whisper of it has rugby players squirming in their seats with excitement and anticipation.
“No player dares to look that far forward, or even hint it is something remotely in their thinking. The wily journalist tries to coax a response from a particular player, potentially ear-marked for the tour. They want a quote along the lines of how much the player is looking forward to going on the Lions tour.
“This is where the trusty ebuttal, “We only focus on one game at a time” becomes commonly used as a method to side-step the issue. However human nature being what it is, anyone who has the remotest contention cannot but help have the odd moment of private reflection as to what it would be like.”
So what would it be like for Haskell?
The 28-year-old London Wasps star, who has previously played in France and Japan, admits he has been ‘addicted’ to the Lions from a young age and he knows that, if the call did come, it would most likely be the best rugby experience of his life.
“I never viewed a vast amount of sport or rugby when I was much younger. However, once I caught sight of this spectacle called the Lions, I had to know more. So I spent a lot of time while at school in 1997 avidly watching and re-watching the Living with the Lions DVD.
“The video was a wonderful presentation of what it was all about. I instantly became addicted to the Lions, remaining a huge fan ever since.
What makes the Lions so special is the tradition. The uniqueness of being able to watch the very best of Britain and Ireland rugby combine to create what, in a relatively short time, becomes such a united and formidable force. It is the ultimate fantasy Rugby game. Who would you pick in your team, if you could pick literally anyone?
“From what I can see, the magic of the Lions supersedes all prejudices and appears to bring the best out of the players involved. Friendships are forged in the heat of battle that last forever. Real rugby characters come to the fore and are immortalised by tales of do and dare in after-dinner speeches up and down the land.
“The other factor is that it resembles the old school tour in the modern era. The combination of midweek games with Test matches at the weekend. The sheer intensity of touring.
“Every participant has told me without hesitation, it is one of, if not their single best rugby memory and experience. The last tour to South Africa in particular ranks up there with players as being some of the best fun and pure rugby experiences they have ever had, and they didn’t even win the series!”