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25 May 2009 14:37
Captain Paul O’Connell has urged his players to restore pride in the British and Irish Lions jersey.
O’Connell was speaking on Monday after the Lions arrived in South Africa for a six-week tour, including three Tests against world champions, the Springboks.
The Ireland lock said the 2009 tour offered him and some of his teammates an opportunity to “make right” what went wrong on the tour of New Zealand four years ago.
Then, under the guidance of another Irish star, Brian O’Driscoll, the Lions lost the Test series 3-0.
“The players must now live up to the tradition of what the Lions is all about,” said O’Connell.
“Maybe in 2005 we didn’t do the Lions jersey proud—but this tour gives us a chance to restore that pride.”
O’Connell said he and his team were “delighted” to be in South Africa and couldn’t wait for the action to begin.
“All the talent is there for us to be competitive, we have a great coaching team, but now it’s up to us, the players, to perform as a team.”
Coach Ian McGeechan, in charge of the Lions the last time they toured South Africa 12 years ago, said this year’s challenge would be “hugely” more difficult than was the case 12 years ago when the tourists triumphed 2-1 in the Test series.
“With the Super rugby competition now very settled and the players playing against internationals each weekend, the rugby is very strong in the southern hemisphere,” said McGeechan.
“The Springbok team is also far more settled than was the case in 1997, the Boks have an experienced captain in charge and the coaching structures are all in place. All round there is much stability about the South African team.”
McGeechan added the uniqueness of South Africa posed many challenges for his side.
“South Africa will always be a tough place to tour.
Rugby is so important in these parts, it’s number one for a lot of people.
“I’ve never known any easy game in South Africa, and I know there will be no easy games for us in the weeks ahead.”
The Lions’ first match is against a Royal XV in Rustenburg on Saturday and the team will be announced 48 hours earlier.
McGeechan says he will give everyone an opportunity in training in the coming days to force their way into the team, as well as the Test XV.
“I’m going to give every player an equally chance to get into the Test side.
“Everyone deserves a fair chance to show what they can do, so the important thing is to test players in certain combinations and to see how they can bring the best out of each other.
“I have to keep an open mind, especially in the first few matches on tour,” said McGeechan.—AFP
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