The 2009 British & Irish Lions captain Paul O’Connell has spoken of his pride at being handed the top job in international rugby.
The 29-year-old Munsterman won the race to lead the best players in Britain and Ireland on their summer tour of South Africa and has now set his sights on ensuring his tenure is a successful one.
“This is a massive honour, although it wasn’t something I had aspired to,” said O’Connell after being chosen to head a 37-man squad for the 10-match tour of the Republic.
“When you look at the captains who have gone before, they are legends of the game and this is an incredible thing for me. But now it is about winning on tour.
“Winning the series would be incredible. It is not something that happens very often, so it makes the achievement all the more special.
“When you look at the players who won in South Africa in 1997 they are legends now.
“To achieve that in South Africa against the World champions would be an amazing achievement.”
O’Connell takes over as Lions skipper from fellow Irishman Brian O’Driscoll, who led the Lions in 2005 before injury ended his tour involvement just minutes into the first Test against the All Blacks.
O’Driscoll captained Ireland to Grand Slam glory in this year’s RBS 6 Nations and O’Connell insists the two will work well together when it comes to facing the might of South Africa with the Lions.
“Being made captain ahead of Brian O’Driscoll isn’t going to cause any problems between him and me,” added O’Connell.
“Whenever I have played under Brian O’Driscoll I have said nothing more or less than I would have done had I been captain.
“I’ve spoken to Brian and he’s cool about it. As far as I’m concerned, the more people who have an input, who drive things on, the more successful we will be.”
Having been part of a series defeat against the All Blacks four years ago, O’Connell is desperate to avoid a similar outcome this time around.
The imposing second row wants to join Bill MacLagan, Johnny Hammond, Willie John McBride and Martin Johnson as a winning skipper in South Africa but he knows a huge amount of hard work will be required if that dream is to become a reality.
“This is my second tour and I learned a lot of things in 2005. The players really have to front up on this tour.
“We had a lot of excuses in New Zealand in 2005. Those excuses aren’t going to be there on the 2009 tour.
“We have to front up and produce the goods, which is something we didn’t do four years ago. It is down to the players to take this tour by the scruff of the neck.
“It is going to be an immensely difficult challenge. The Springboks are the World champions, but then that’s what makes it all the more exciting.
“South Africa have got a fabulous side. They are immensely disciplined – you only have to look at their performances in the Rugby World Cup to see that.
“They are a top class side who aren’t champions of the world for nothing.
“There are so many obstacles in our way, and so many challenges ahead of us, but that’s what makes this tour so special.”