Lions Legends: Geoff Parling


Lions Legends: Geoff Parling

Geoff Parling played a vital role in The British & Irish Lions’ first series win in 16 years as they defeated Australia in 2013.

As part of a new series for The British & Irish Lions, the former England second row reflects on his experiences in Australia a decade on.

I first picked up a ball for Ian Ramsey School aged 12, when my mate Ian Mercer took me down to play for Stockton Rugby Club and never looked back.

Fast forward 15 years and I got involved with England on a tour to Australia in 2010 under Martin Johnson.

I didn’t play in the capped games but felt I’d put in some strong performances and was now on their radar, however things went sideways when I had a neck operation post tour and then did my ACL one minute after coming back.

Under Stuart Lancaster, it felt brilliant, I felt like I belonged on that stage. Although we always dropped short in big moments for England, I was extremely proud to be representing my country.

I timed my run for a Lions Tour well, it is not like I was one of those blokes who was at the top of the international game for 10/12 years which some guys were. The reality was I was there for four years and in the middle of it, I was getting some pretty good form.

We found out during a forward’s session at Leicester, there were six of us selected, so Cockers (then Tigers coach Richard Cockerill) grabbed us and told us we were going.

I had to chat to my wife because our daughter May was due just before the first test, she was very supportive for me to go and it was the only time in my career I felt I made a genuine sacrifice for rugby.

I am really grateful I am very close to May and the experience and memories I have from that Lions Tour are very special.

I was over the moon to be selected but I have never been a player who would go out and celebrate getting named in a squad, I hadn’t played a game yet and when people asked me to sign their Lions shirt, I felt like a fraud.

At the start of the Tour, I was a bit late to join because of the Premiership final – the Leicester and Leinster players joined two weeks later than most. We flew straight into Hong Kong, stayed there for five days, and then we went over to Australia after that.

We worked hard on and off the pitch, learning moves and bonding – everyone had a similar attitude of wanting to be successful.

That moment when I got onto the pitch against Western Force, that was when I felt ‘right, now I can say I am a Lion’ and I felt comfortable signing a shirt.

You felt like you belonged, it is a pretty special group isn’t it and you feel like you belong to part of the Lions, before when you are on tour but have not played, nothing has happened yet.

That game was very special for me and I somehow managed to sneak over for a try as well which does not happen very often.

After all those midweek games, the opposition would come in and have a beer, you would sit down with them and swap shirts.

There were all sorts of committees, obviously I was on the fines committee, but there was a social committee, a rooming committee, so you would room with all different people and get to know different guys which was great.

The Tests came around quickly, I thought I would have been in the mix for selection, I was named on the bench for the first test, and on the Thursday I had to quickly jump in a car after training to get back to the hotel because my daughter was about to be born back in the UK.

That second week was different because Gats had asked me to captain the midweek team against the Rebels.

I did the press conference as I was captain and then Paul O’Connell got ruled out of the Tests, so Gats said to me: ‘you are going to start on Saturday in the Test, it is up to you whether you play in midweek or not and captain the team.’

What a decision that is – I’m already playing in the second Test, he has asked me if I want to captain still, captaining the Lions is a huge opportunity.

In the end I decided not playing against the Rebels would give me the best chance to perform in the Test but the ego side of me thought, how good would that be to captain the Lions.

There was pressure on the squad after that second Test because we felt like we had blown a golden chance to finish them off.

We had two or three days off in Noosa and a few of us had some beers together, then we re-grouped on the Wednesday.

In the third Test there were some big moments and I knew at the time that the tackle on Jesse Mogg was one of them.

The lesson is to actually just be last up from the ruck and the last one into the d-line!

It was just incredible, an unreal experience, I remember the changing room after the third Test, I did not want it to end.

Daniel Craig sent some champagne down and he was in the changing room with us, it was an unreal experience. The lads actually flew back on Tuesday but I flew back the next morning to see my daughter.

It was an incredible and surreal moment getting home and holding my daughter for the first time. I was changing a nappy when the lads were out in Sydney celebrating a Lions win and I was just thinking ‘god this is different’.

Looking back on it, that Tour was amazing, you played with all these outstanding players from other countries and came together and tried to form a team in such a short space of time, it was an unreal experience, and for that team to be successful is just incredible.

Anyone you now meet from that Tour, even if you don’t keep in touch and you are not necessarily that close, if you ever see each other, you catch up and you just have that respect straightaway because you know you have worked hard and that person has done something with you to create an incredible memory.

Geoff Parling played 29 times for England between 2012 and 2015 and played club rugby for Newcastle Falcons, Leicester Tigers, Exeter Chiefs, Munakata Sanix Blues and Melbourne Rebels, where he is now the forwards coach.

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