Jump to main content


Lions Depart For South Africa

Lions Depart For South Africa

Paul O’Connell and the 2009 British & Irish Lions flew out from London to Johannesburg on Sunday, ahead of their first tour match against Royal XV in Rustenburg next weekend.

Lions head coach Ian McGeechan has confirmed that none of the Leinster and Leicester Tigers players will be considered for selection for the tour opener, following their efforts in what was a bruising Heineken Cup final.

Scotland prop Euan Murray, who played in Northampton’s European Challenge Cup win over Bourgoin last Friday, will also sit out the Rustenburg game.

Google Ad Manager – 300×250 – In Article

Brian O’Driscoll, one of four new Heineken Cup winners on board the plane, spoke of his eagerness to be part of a Test series-winning Lions squad at the third attempt.

O’Driscoll scored an inspirational try against Australia during his debut Lions tour in 2001, but the Wallabies took the series 2-1.

Then four years ago, the Ireland centre had a nightmare tour. Handed the honour of captaining the Lions, he sustained a dislocated shoulder in the opening minute of the first Test against New Zealand. The Kiwis went on to complete a Lions ‘blackwash’, winning the series 3-0.

But now, after what has arguably been his best season to date on both a personal and team level, O’Driscoll is hoping the South African tour will provide him with better memories and the legacy of a series win.

The Lions management had a slight concern when Ireland’s Grand Slam-winning captain went down holding his shoulder during the second half of Saturday’s Heineken Cup final.

But, reporting for duty on Sunday, the player himself allayed any fears.

“You get ‘stingers’ and that sort of thing in games – I’ve had a few of them,” O’Driscoll explained.

“It’s just a matter of managing it and treating it in the best possible way and getting yourself ready for the Saturday, because not too many Test matches or other games are won on a Monday or a Tuesday.

“I am very motivated, and the goal is to try to win a Test series and to be a part of that.

“It is not about being involved in the squad or touring South Africa and having a great time – it is about winning a Test series, that’s the bottom line.

“Certainly, we should have won that series (in Australia) in 2001, and the more I look back on it the more regretful you are about it.

“You realise how tough series wins are to grasp against one of the three big nations in the world.”

The Lions players trained away in Bagshot, Surrey for the duration of last week. Unfortunately they suffered a couple of setbacks during that time, with Alan Quinlan’s appeal against a 12-week suspension failing and Jerry Flannery picking up a tour-ending elbow injury.

Flannery, who had surgery on his left elbow on Friday, was present at the team hotel yesterday to pass on his best wishes to the players before their departure for South Africa.

Helped by their preparatory week at the Pennyhill Park facility, the squad bond is obviously strong already and forwards coach Warren Gatland agreed that the addition of Leinster’s Heineken Cup winners to the touring party will add to the positive vibes in camp.

“The Leinster lads have turned up feeling on top of the world after their Heineken Cup victory,” he said.

“That sort of positive attitude will hopefully rub off on the rest of the squad.

“Obviously we have to be mindful of the fact that they, along with the Leicester players, have played a lot of rugby recently so we will have to manage that in the first week in South Africa.

“We’ve obviously been looking forward to this moment. There’s a bit of trepidation because now the real work starts, but it’s very exciting.

“The biggest challenge in the first week is settling into a new country, finding our bearings and getting our preparations in place for that first game. Once we do that, we’ll be up and running for the tour.”

Pre-tour preparations have gone according to plan for McGeechan, who guided the Lions to series glory on their last visit to South Africa in 1997.

“We’ve had a great week. Training has been excellent, and as coaches, we are happy with where we are,” he insisted.

“It is as good as it has ever been on any of the Lions tours I’ve been involved in.

“A lot of it is down to the players and their approach and attitude, which is why it has been such a good start. They have given us the start we needed.

“I said we would leave as one group and that we would leave fully fit. There isn’t a player we’ve got who is unavailable for selection.

“We have got some good work in this week, we have trained twice a day doing different things and I am very conscious of managing the players.

“I want these players at 100%, or as near as we can possibly make it, when they play.”