19th June  -  Brisbane

After the cold & rain of comatose Canberra the sun & sparkle of Brisbane was just what was needed to crack us back into action. Home for the next four days would be the Rothbury Hotel, which could've stepped straight out of an episode of Poirot. Unfortunately this meant that one vital aspect of the building hadn't joined the 21st century, the promised wi-fi never materialised into anything usable causing much frustration when trying to contact home and, more urgently, tracking the whereabouts of two of our Melbourne match tickets. Fortunately the Asian cafe next door had free wi-fi so we weren't cut entirely adrift. The food, coffee & juices weren't bad either!

We were soon into our summer gear exploring the surrounding area and, on advice, headed to the Eagle Street Pier ten minutes walk away, which is the hub of Brisbanes vibrant riverside food & drink scene. Over the next few days we tended to alternate between two of the pubs, the British-themed 'Pig & Whistle' and the more cosmopolitan 'Riverside Bar' located, as the name suggests, down on the quayside. Given that many of the best restaurants in town are here, spotting past international rugby players was easy as most were staying in the Marriott, along with our very own Robbo & Christine, who'd arrived via stays in Nelson (NZ) and Byron Bay.

Given that nothing we'd eaten so far had included veggies, The Pig proved a perfect place to eat that night as the traditional British fayre on offer was just what we all wanted and, given that it's a chain pub, the food was pretty damn good and service excellent, something that seems to be the norm here in Aus. Although busy, most of the Lions followers were yet to arrive so we spent the rest of the night at the pub as the beer & atmosphere was good and there was still enough room to be comfortable. As it had been a pretty heavy session we decided to take a taxi home, even though it was only 10 minutes walk around the corner . . . . . . big mistake! You'd think a taxi driver might have some idea of where things are, not in Brisbane! So it was that we trudged up the hill vowing never to moan about British cabbies again, that won't last long though.

Oh yes, for the benefit of Robbo, this is Scott Gibbs (who wasn't in The Pig)

and this is Mark Regan  (who was, taking hospitality to an admirable level)

We were out early Thursday morning exploring more of the city when Robbo called so a quick (and free!) water taxi had us back at Eagle St Pier to meet up. The afternoon was spent in the Riverside before grabbing a very tasty Thai meal in the neighbouring cafe. While ordering, Neil had tried to ensure there was plenty of chilli heat to his dish but could see the young waitress was somewhat bemused. To stress the point he said "I want it hot, hotter than even you can take it!" Sure enough 15 minutes later she emerged from the kitchen, steam billowing from skillets hot enough to mould a horse-shoe . . . . . Christ were they hot! No extra chilli though, priceless!  That evening we returned to the quayside for more beers in the two bars, throwing in a fleeting mix with the very (very!) young clientele of Jade Buddha thrown in, I couldn't wait to get out but the others were drawn by the cheapest G & T's in town, only $7 a throw 

As Troy & Sarah had flown in late the previous night, we arranged to meet up with them and Steve Lacey at the Riverside on Friday lunchtime. Before that we met Robbo & Christine by the pier and took a boat trip along the river. Completely out of the blue it was raining!!! Thankfully the boat was fully enclosed so we were able to stay dry while admiring Brisbanes finest, and no doubt most expensive, riverside pads. On return it was time to hook up with the others and, after all the handshakes, hugs & kisses, were soon settled down to an afternoon of food, drink and catching up. Lots of fun and the time flew by all to quickly, goodbyes were soon being made as it would only be Troy & Steve joining us at Suncorp the next day. We in turn had to get ready for the Classic Anzacs v Lions match at the legendary Ballymore Stadium that night, little knowing what great entertainment lay in store.

After the previous nights debacle we were by now very wary of Brisbane taxis so you can imagine the mood as we drove straight past a sports stadium with floodlights on then went down some remote looking country lane. On hitting traffic he suggested we walk the rest of the way to the ground only to have four baying hounds bark back at him "we want the bloody rugby ground!", you can imagine the slightly sheepish chuckles as, true to his word, Ballymore was just around the corner. $25 later we were standing on the iconic 'Hill' soaking up the great atmosphere. As it transpired, the proceeds of the match were all going to the 'Mates4Mates' charity, which is the Aussie version of Help For Heroes. All suppliers had donated freely, from Domino's Pizza to the program printer, a fantastic effort raised over $600k. As good as some of the Pommie players were, an Anzacs side containing Larkham & Latham was always going to have too much class, and so it proved. There was no disgrace though, as "Big Trev" Brennan was a well deserved man of a match made fantastically entertaining by the caustic wit of the Aussie commentators, who took particular delight in crucifying one of their own, former Wallaby Greg Martin, who is believed to be the first player ever to play a match wearing spectacles!!!

As with Canberra, free buses were laid on back to the city and we, once again, managed to get on the first one and were soon heading back into town. Rob & Neil decided to head back to the hotel leaving Ray & I to make our way to our regular haunts. You can imagine my surprise when out of the shadows emerged Manu Tuillagi enjoying a late night stroll. He duly obliged our request for a photo, except there was one problem, I had no idea how to turn on the flash on my new phone. "No worries" he said, took it off me and proceeded to spend the next few minutes trying to sort it out. Problem solved, photos taken and we were soon chuckling about it back at the Pig over a few pints, a cracking night!


Finally the big day was here . . . . . . . THE FIRST TEST

We eased our way into the day with another nice breakfast next door before having a look around the main shopping mall, anything to keep us out of the pub really. There we happened upon Wallaby legend Joe Roff having a morning coffee, thankfully he was wearing flip-flops (they're called thongs out here!) so there was to be no repeat of him skipping over the Lions try-line that night. A quick chat about the previous nights great match and the tour so far was followed with the obligatory photocall. Neil asked the guy sitting at the next table if he'd mind doing the honours only to get a brusque reply "nah mate, I'm trying to read me bloody paper!" Hilarious! Even Joe commented on the legendary Aussie hospitality, an absolute gent. It was not for long before it was time to meet Robbo & Christine in the Riverside. Rob had also been in touch with Tom Franks and he joined us later that afternoon for a few beers. We decided to beat the rush so at 5:30 took a taxi to Caxton Street, which is where everybody drinks before matches at Suncorp. The atmosphere was stunning!

The thing about Caxton Street is that virtually every one of the 52,000 going to the match has to walk down it. We tried the local favourite, Caxtons, but after initial success it was almost impossible to get a drink so we went in search of somewhere a bit quieter. Amazingly, amongst the chaos we found Calypso, which looked really busy but you were able to get a drink pretty quickly, and there we stayed until it was time to go to the stadium. Troy & Steve joined us there a bit later, Ray & Rob cut out a bit earlier to meet Dave & Ally Palmer in the Caxton. After the obligatory rake of beers it was soon time to hit the stadium . . . . . . what an atmosphere!!! You'll no doubt have watched the match so not much to say about that, only that we got away with it. The nature of the win had meant a more humble appraisal of the match back in the Calypso afterwards, fact is the better side lost, I'll take it though! A taxi back into the city and we were soon finishing off the night with one last visit to the Riverside, tomorrow we'd be off to Melbourne.