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Phil Vickery: Now it's a real balancing act for the Lions

THE HYPE has been going on for three years and at last they have played some rugby. It has begun.

The Lions have played a game, not talked about one. 

The wheels have started to roll.

It is hard to say what they will have got out of the game in Hong Kong, apart from getting some rust out of the system. 

It was a cricket score.

My sadness is that as much as I love the Barbarians, do they actually mean anything in the modern age?

But the conditions and the heat will have been a great test, both mentally and physically, and the players will find Australia much easier by comparison. 

You can never be ready for your first Lions tour as a young man. 

You have to learn very quickly, and accept things that you might not agree with in other circumstances, to take one for the team.

My first tour, of Australia in 2001, was a great experience. 

I know others have criticised the tour and coach Graham Henry, but I found him a delight. 

He was not my best friend, he did not talk to me a lot, but from a coaching point of view we were very well organised and we understood how he wanted us to play.

Having Andy Robinson and Phil Larder there from the England set-up helped in my transition – there is a lot to take on.

There are a lot of meetings, a lot of talking, a lot of people to keep happy – you can almost forget it is all about rugby. 

But once you get there, once you land in Australia, it’s all about the rugby.

And it is not just the Tests. Every game is like a cup final. I tried to think what it would be like for me, playing for a regional side who were taking on the Lions.

It would be the biggest game of your career and at the end of it, you might be able to say, ‘I have beaten the Lions’. Every pass, every scrum, every tackle, kick and carry will mean something.

The Lions have to have the same mentality.

Warren Gatland will have a lot to decide upon in the coming weeks. 

The reality is you cannot play every player in a Test match and the coaches have to get the balance right between knowing what they want and giving everyone a chance.

You have to get your combinations together quickly, so you have to have an idea of your team before you even leave.

In the first Test against South Africa I struggled up front, but some of that was down to us not playing together much. So you have to give your combinations a chance to work together.

People say this Wallaby side are not so strong but they will be ready.

These guys play New Zealand and South Africa every year, so they will not fear the Lions.