We arrived in Cape Town early on Wednesday morning and there was definitely a sense of de-ja-vu after what happened last year.
There was a bit of apprehension after last time and we were a little wary of coming back but things have been put in place to ensure there’s not a repeat and the course of the pandemic has also moved on.
All the boys wanted was some reassurance that if it did occur again, things would be in place to get us home and we wouldn’t be stuck somewhere or having to isolate.
It wasn’t just the players but families who were stressed and worried - some of the guys were touch and go for Christmas - but we’re in a far better position now and we are happy to be here and looking to get the job done.
We always enjoy coming to South Africa, the people are great, the weather is a lot better than home and the scenery in Cape Town is breathtaking.
We have a great set-up at the Cullinan Hotel and are fortunate to use some of the Stormers’ facilities, the Sport Science Institute of South Africa and some brilliant schools and clubs.
The boys work incredibly hard through the week whether it’s skills, rugby or in the gym but we also enjoy each other’s company in free time.
It has that tour feeling to it where we are all together, we spend virtually 24 hours a day in each other’s company and we don’t get many opportunities like that back home. So this is really where you get to know some of those young players and bond as a group. You find out who they are as people, not just rugby players.
Some of those new boys have been rewarded for the way they have been playing for the Rags - opportunity comes when the international players are away - and it’s good to see Jacob Beetham and Rhys Anstey stepping up with our comms on the bus journeys.
They are our chief announcers and we have a number of roles and committees. Unsurprisingly a few of the senior boys are on the fines committee. It’s the usual fines for things like being late, wearing the wrong kit or a phone going off in a meeting and we have either a monetary fine or a dice roll for the forfeit. The forfeits are something we like to keep in house but put it this way, I would be surprised if anyone opted for the dice!
Then there’s Lloyd, Ellis, Laney and Rory on the entertainment and social committee, who organise activities for after training and days off.
Shane, Boydey and Ellis Bevan are on joke of the day, Rhys Barrett and Theo Cabango on fact of the day and there are a few who are on laundry duty or as Mikey Bieri’s helpers.
It’s a bit of a laugh but it’s also important in terms of breaking down barriers and making the boys feel comfortable in the group. A lot might stay in a clique otherwise but we like the boys to really feel like they are part of the squad. You won’t find out what Rhys Anstey is about unless you get him in front of the squad. You have to peel the layers away and he’s a big boy so there’s a lot of layers!
We’ve had a good week training here in Cape Town and temperatures hit 33c during our Friday morning session but it was still good quality. We will enjoy the Wales game in the team room or our bedrooms tonight and then fly to Johannesburg tomorrow.
Focussing on rugby, we weren’t good enough against Ulster but for large parts of the game I felt we were actually in there. We controlled large parts of the first 20, we were playing in the right areas and doing good things but they had the bounce of the ball and scored, there’s an intercept and they score, we fail to take a couple of chances and next thing we are 17-0 down and chasing the game. That’s not a position you want to be in against Ulster on their own patch.
We didn’t capitalise on our opportunities and they were very clinical but we can put that right this week. We have the chance to do something here in South Africa and we are determined to do so.
The Lions have a massive pack, they play a fast open game and score a lot of points early on. We have to weather that storm and back the boys to come through. It’s going to be a massively physical game, and we need to move them around and pay to our strengths but it is a challenge we are relishing.
With so many games in hand, it is important we take as many points as possible and we are looking forward to the challenge at Ellis Park.