Alex Cuthbert admits the prospect of touring with The British & Irish Lions seemed like a distant dream when the squad were preparing for their most recent adventure four years ago.
The Wales wing was just finishing his first Sevens tournament in Bath when The Lions lost the second Test to the Springboks in heart-breaking circumstances courtesy of a late Morne Steyn penalty in Pretoria.
Cuthbert hadn’t even played regional rugby when The Lions were in South Africa but he has since established himself as a big name on the international scene after scoring nine tries in 18 games for Wales.
His brace of scores in the Championship-deciding win over England in mid-March helped secure a spot in Warren Gatland’s 37-man Lions squad – something that now means he will have a very different focus when Britain and Ireland’s elite are in the midst of the three-match series than he did back in 2009.
"I had just played my first Sevens tournament when The Lions lost the second Test. I was watching it with mates and just having a laugh," said Cuthbert, who insists he would have headed south to watch The Lions if he hadn’t made the final cut.
"It was a great feeling to be selected and I don’t think I will ever get that feeling again.
"I would never have thought I would be on the next Tour. I still have to pinch myself and I have a few mates who bring me back down to earth.
"Lions selection is what we all dream about. It’s one of those talked about things in every pub in Britain and Ireland.
"I’m a massive Lions fan. My dad used to buy me the replica shirts, which I’ve still got in my wardrobe. And had I not been selected I probably would have gone down to Australia with my mates to cheer them on."
Cuthbert has enjoyed a remarkable rise to the top of the game after making his international debut against the Qantas Wallabies in December 2011 but he admits that training with The Lions has already proved another step up in terms of standard.
Gatland’s squad trained at the Vale of Glamorgan last week and are now in County Kildare ahead of departure for Hong Kong next Monday and Cuthbert is convinced that the intensity and commitment being shown so far can ensure he avoids a repeat of last summer’s frustrations when he tasted series defeat against the Australians with Wales.
“It’s a step up from international rugby and the pinnacle for any player," added Cuthbert.
"Training with these boys you can tell the difference. There are no mistakes and everything is at 110 per cent in terms of intensity – that’s what we want to take Down Under.
"I've tried to forget about the defeats with Wales against Australia. It was an experience I never want to go through again.
"Hopefully, this Lions squad will go down and do the job and this time I’ll have the feeling of enjoyment."
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