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Rugby | British & Irish Lions

Mixed feelings for lion-hearted Delve

Having left the muddy fields of South Wales to play rugby Down Under three years ago, Gareth Delve cannot help but feel the slightest bit conflicted ahead of the upcoming British and Irish Lions tour.

While, like many an elite British rugby player, the former Wales forward has dreamt of wearing a Lions jersey himself, next month he will find a barrage of them hurtling towards him when his Melbourne Rebels side host the tourists.

"Playing for your country and singing your own anthem is the biggest honour but in terms of being picked as the best of the best and being a part of the Lions history and heritage, it would be really difficult to turn something down like that," the 30-year-old told Reuters in an interview.

"In saying that, I'm really looking forward to taking the guys on. Leading the Rebels out against the Lions is going to be an amazing experience in itself."

No 8 Delve, capped 11 times for Wales, joined the Rebels for their foundation season in 2011 on a two-year contract and signed on for another year in the off-season.

Rewarded for his loyalty, and contributions on and off the field, Delve was named club captain this year, becoming the first foreign skipper of an Australian Super Rugby team.

Despite battling injuries in his third season at the club, Delve boasts Wallabies backs James O'Connor andKurtley Beale, as well as flanker Scott Higginbotham as teammates.

He also pits himself regularly against the players who will make up Australia coach Robbie Deans's squad to take on the Lions, giving him unrivalled insight into the opposition and experience in local conditions.

Delve jokingly denies he has been put on Lions coach Warren Gatland's payroll but confesses to some low-level attempts at espionage from a few unnamed Welsh players in the squad.

"No," he laughed. "Nothing formal. It is an interesting predicament because obviously I've got a lot of good friends in both camps so I'll probably find myself in a bit of a tough place there.

"A few of the Welsh boys have been giving me a call and asking me for a bit of advice or info on a few of the guys they're coming up against and I'm obviously more than happy to (talk), but, yeah, I certainly haven't been drafted in as a super-spy just yet."

Delve effectively shelved his international aspirations with his move to Melbourne, out of sight and out of mind for Wales coach Gatland.

He did hook up with the Welsh squad when they came down to Melbourne for the second test in their 3-0 series loss to Australia last year, though.

That scoreline flattered the Wallabies, with each test hostly contested and ultimately decided by a few points.

The dominant Welsh makeup of the Lions squad has been a talking point Down Under, with some local pundits viewing it optimistically as playing into the Wallabies' hands.

Delve sees it more a case of lessons learned and ready to be applied in a winning cause for the Welsh lions.

"Each game is different and you've got to be tough enough to get past those close losses to take what you can learn from them and move on, leave the bad stuff behind," he said.

"It won't have a huge bearing on the Lions tests. Obviously the other nations, the strength of the English, Irish and Scottish players come into different positions as well."

Many in the Lions squad will also know what to expect from Australia, Delve said.

Whether it's the Brisbane humidity that can render the ball into a "bar of soap" in the first test at Lang Park on June 22, or the class of a Wallabies backline ready to cut a defence to shreds if given an inch of latitude.

"I think it could work on the positive side," he said. "Just getting used to the travel, the sleeping patterns, the conditions, it was almost like a dress rehearsal for those guys so it's not going to be as big a shock as maybe it was last year."


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