The 2009 British & Irish Lions squad may only have been announced last week but Brian O’Driscoll has already started searching for the next generation of future Lions players.
As an HSBC Lions ambassador, Brian O’Driscoll was at Ashbourne RFC in County Meath at Sunday’s HSBC Rugby Festival with over 400 children from across Ireland in attendance.
This was the third major HSBC Rugby Festival to be staged in Ireland, following events at Terenure College in Dublin last October and Cooke Rugby Club in Belfast last month.
“It has been great coming to Ashbourne and seeing so much enthusiasm from the youngsters,” said O’Driscoll, who is set for his third successive tour with the Lions this summer in South Africa.
“This has been a fantastic week for Irish rugby with a record 14 Ireland players named in the Lions squad, as well as an Irish captain in Paul O’Connell.
“With that following the Grand Slam earlier this year, there has never been a more exciting or inspirational time for kids in this country to pick up a rugby ball.
“I’ve been impressed by some of the skills on show here and have confidence that in ten or 20 years’ time there will still be a strong contingent of Ireland boys in the Lions squads of the future!”
O’Driscoll spent time coaching the youngsters from clubs and schools across the country as well as signing autographs and passing on tips and advice.
The festival was organised in conjunction with the IRFU and is one of 500 festivals that will have been staged across the UK & Ireland by the time the Lions play their first Test against the Springboks on June 20.
Speaking about his selection for this summer’s tour, O’Driscoll said: “I’m absolutely thrilled to be selected on my third Lions tour.
“Now that I am that little bit older and more experienced I am really looking forward to it and will do everything I can to make this my first victorious tour with the Lions.”
The HSBC Rugby Festivals were launched by HSBC ambassador Jason Robinson last October, and since then Robinson, O’Driscoll and 1993 Lions skipper Gavin Hastings have all been on hand to help the next generation of players.
Over 60,000 children and 3,000 coaches and teachers will have participated in the programme that focuses on emerging rugby schools.
The programme is also being extended to schools in South Africa during the tour when Jason Robinson will coach youngsters in four cities in South Africa.
“The HSBC Rugby Festivals is an extremely important part of HSBC’s investment in rugby,” said Giles Morgan, group head of sponsorship for HSBC.
“The partnership with the Lions has allowed us to launch the world’s biggest schools rugby programme and unite children from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales as well as children in South Africa.
“Having our HSBC ambassadors involved with the festivals has been fantastic and a dream come true for the many children involved. What better incentive is there to start playing rugby than to be coached by one of the greatest ever rugby players?
“We really hope that children who have been introduced to rugby, many for the first time, through the HSBC Rugby Festivals, will continue to enjoy the game and will be supporting the Lions this summer.”
HSBC are Principal Partner of the 2009 British & Irish Lions