As Cardiff Blues wing Josh Adams prepares to wear the British & Irish Lions jersey for the first time on South African soil, Tom Shanklin has recalled the ‘special’ moment when he tasted life in the famous red jersey for the first time.
On the back of Wales’ Grand Slam success in 2005, the former Cardiff centre was selected in Sir Clive Woodward’s squad to travel New Zealand, where they would ultimately suffer a series whitewash at the hands of Dan Carter’s All Blacks outfit.
Shanklin will host a star-studded line-up as Cardiff Rugby and Genero Group have joined forces to stage the Aspen Waite Lions Locker Room this summer.
With the rest of the line-up set to be announced in due course, The Aspen Waite Lions Locker Room gives supporters an opportunity to soak up the best action and atmosphere of the three-Test series at the iconic Cardiff Arms Park.
Recalling his 2005 tour memories, Shanklin said: “It really hit home when we boarded the plane, dressed in the Lions kit and had the photo on the steps.
“That hit home that you’re actually going on tour. Previously I’d injured my knee, so you’re always just thinking that you need to get on that plane.
“We’ve seen it happen so many times and every year there are players selected who don’t make it onto the plane.
“The biggest thing is getting yourself out there so once you board that plane, it starts to sink in that you’re part of the history of the British and Irish Lions.
“To be involved in the first game against Bay of Plenty was also great. You don’t want to be hanging around waiting for your chance - you want to be part of the squad and be one of the players as soon as possible.
“I was selected out on the wing, clearly for my out-and-out pace, for that first game and it was special when you saw your jersey for the first time.
“You think about the history behind it, and to see your name engraved on the bottom left hand corner was something special. You walk into the changing room and see the shirts hanging up and you instantly remember watching the Lions tours in 1997 and 2001.
“So to be part of that gives you a massive sense of achievement.”
The finest players from four nations will combine to take on the Springboks, and with the current Covid-19 restrictions making it an unprecedented tour, Shanklin believes team bonding will be more important than ever in South Africa.
The former Wales centre explains: “It’s always a little bit difficult initially to bring players from four countries together and gel, especially for players who haven’t been on a Lions tour previously.
“You’ll have a core group of players who know each other well from previous tours but the new ones coming in won’t necessarily know a lot of the others.
“But that’s where I think the week in Jersey will be brilliant. They got away, and it gave them an opportunity to bond, do activities and I think that will be key.
“When I look back at 2005, I think that was something we probably didn’t do enough of. We met up at the Vale, and did some painting and acting which wasn’t that exciting compared to some team bonding activities you could do.
“I’m sure there will be a few of them enjoying a few drinks together because, no matter what industry you work in, a couple of beers will break down barriers.
“Team bonding sessions always involved responsible drinking sessions, and it’s a part of getting along off the field.
“What 2005 was good at was learning lessons of what needs to be done in order for a team to gel.
Two Cardiff players are part of the Lions contingent with Josh Navidi joining wing Adams following a late call-up last weekend.
Shanklin hopes the capital duo will embrace the opportunity and has no doubt that they possess the qualities to push for a place in the Test team.
The former Cardiff star adds: “You have to enjoy it, you have to take your opportunity. Someone like Josh Navidi wasn’t initially selected but we’ve seen so many players called into the squad late and gone on to make massive impact in the Tests.
“He needs to take every opportunity he can. He might not get a shot straight away but when he does, he’s a quality player and was in a lot of people’s Lions squad before it was announced.
“As for Josh Adams, he just need to keep up the form. He’s playing really well.
“You think back to 2019 and the Rugby World Cup and he was probably the number one wing. He had a quiet spell, when Wales’ form struggled, but has regained that form now.
“He scored a nice try last weekend against Japan and he’s certainly one of the form players. He needs to do his best to look after himself, stay injury-free.
“It will be slightly different out there anyway, because the country isn’t open in the same way as previous tours. So you won’t be able to do certain things due to the restrictions.
“But that won’t matter too much. It’s a Lions tour and if you’re offered this opportunity, restrictions or not, every single person would take it no doubt.”
While the Lions won’t be backed by their usual strong support in the Rainbow Nation, Shanklin is excited to bring a taste of the famous atmosphere to the Arms Park for all three Test matches.
“If they could stream The Locker Room into stadiums in South Africa, it would be amazing.
“A little bit of a worry for me, as we’ve seen in the European Championships recently, is that fans play a massive part in results. You look at the semi final and final of the Premiership, and you won’t get games like that in an empty stadium.
“That is a slight worry because if things don’t go well then you’ve got nothing to draw upon, nothing to feed off and nothing to excite you. Often that difference is the crowd and the Lions supporters
“Fortunately for us, we’ll have that in the Locker Room. It’s going to be great. It’ll be loud, noisy, people are going to be excited about it because it’s a Lions tour.
“We’ve got some great guests lined up, which will be announced in due course. They’re legends of the game who know all about these tours and they will be both entertaining and knowledgable.”
The Aspen Waite Lions Locker Room offers the very best hospitality at the heart of the capital.
Guests will be treated to a three-course meal, complementary bar, the match on the big screen with live Q&As, and post-match entertainment.
Tables of 12 are now available for £1,800 plus VAT. For more information please email [email protected]