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McGeechan: ‘O’Connell’s A Natural Leader’

McGeechan: ‘O’Connell’s A Natural Leader’

Paul O’Connell is a ‘natural leader both on and off the field’ according to Lions coach Ian McGeechan, who today named the Young Munster clubman as captain of the 2009 British & Irish Lions.

The announcement of the British & Irish Lions squad was made in London by tour manager Gerald Davies and head coach Ian McGeechan.

The tour party has a record 14 representatives from Ireland, thirteen from Wales, eight from England and two from Scotland.

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Paul O’Connell is the incumbent captain of Munster, the 2006 and 2008 Heineken Cup champions and 2009 semi-finalists.

The 29-year-old Limerick man has represented Ireland on 62 occasions and has captained his country four times.

He will be the 10th Irishman to lead the Lions on tour, succeeding his Ireland team-mate and 2009 Grand Slam-winning skipper Brian O’Driscoll, who captained the 2005 British & Irish Lions in New Zealand.

Former Lion Davies said: “Following a highly competitive RBS 6 Nations Championship this year, today’s announcement of the British & Irish Lions tour squad has been highly anticipated.

“Being selected as a Lion is a huge honour for a player and marks a major highlight in his career. I congratulate each of the players on their selection and look forward to a successful and rewarding tour to South Africa.

“We now have a short space of time in which to prepare for the tour and build a team that is capable of taking on the World champions.

“As ambassadors for British and Irish rugby I know the players will be dedicated to the adventure and task ahead.

“They might hail from four different countries but on tour they will play for the one jersey, one philosophy, one style and have one ambition, to return home as winners.”

McGeechan added: “To get where we are today and the announcement of the 37 players who will travel to South Africa has taken a lot of thought and work.

“Over the last six months the Lions coaching staff has attended countless matches, analysed endless games and taken the counsel of national and domestic coaches. Today marks the end of a comprehensive and detailed selection process.

“Naturally there were some tough decisions and there will be disappointed players but I am confident that this is a very strong and capable squad.

“Its composition reflects the form shown in the Six Nations and domestic rugby and has a balanced blend of experience and youth.”

On the subject of his chosen captain, he said: “Paul has shown over his career that he is a natural leader both on and off the field. He leads from the front on the field and as a quality international has the respect of his fellow players all over the world.

“As a member of the 2005 tour to New Zealand he played in five matches including three Tests, so he knows all about the ethos and challenges of Lions tours.

“I look forward to working with him and the entire squad over the coming months as we strive to develop a side that can add a successful chapter in the long history of the Lions.”

On his selection as Lions captain, O’Connell said: “To be selected for a second Lions tour is fantastic and to be asked to captain the squad is a tremendous honour. It is not only a great honour for me but an honour for Munster and Ireland.

“The tour to South Africa represents a huge challenge for the touring party as we will be playing against the World champions.

“However, I am confident we have the talent and attitude to represent the famous shirt to the best of our ability and to be successful.”