O'Connell sensing buzz among Lions
May 26, 2009
Paul O'Connell arrives in South Africa alongside Lions coach Ian McGeechan and manager Gerald Davies © AP
British & Irish Lions skipper Paul O'Connell has revealed that there is "a big buzz" around the squad after a successful first week of training. Despite injuries to Ireland hooker Jerry Flannery and Wales wing Leigh Halfpenny, O'Connell confirmed that the squad had begun to build its identity even at this early stage.
O'Connell's men touched down in Johannesburg on Monday ahead of their opening game against a Royal XV in Rustenberg on Saturday. The Lions were all present and correct for their first training session in South Africa, with a clean bill of health reported for the entire squad, including Brian O'Driscoll. O'Driscoll was seen to be nursing a shoulder injury following Leinster's Heineken Cup victory but was fits for training on Tuesday.
"I think there's a big buzz," said O'Connell. "We had a great week last week. Everyone's out on the pitch at the same time, everyone's in the gym at the same time, everyone's in and around the training ground at the same time. I think there's a lot of good friendships being made, a lot of characters emerging already and that's going to be a big thing for us.
"I said a week ago that the talent is there in the group, the coaching is there in the group and now it's up to us to perform as a team."
Lions defence coach Warren Gatland was also pleased with the first week's training, and confirmed that the squad was further ahead in their development than had been originally planned.
"I think we are lot further forward than we expected after the first week we had together in England," said Gatland. "The players have picked up the calls and things really quickly. Playing against South Africa is always tough. We have got to be accurate against them for 80 minutes - they have won the World Cup twice and they are always incredibly motivated to perform well."
O'Connell also played up the importance of embodying the pride and tradition of a Lions tour, and admitted that his experiences on the doomed 2005 tour of New Zealand were a further motivating factor this time around. O'Connell started all three Tests as Clive Woodward's horrendously over-managed Lions were routed 3-0 by the All Blacks.
"I think it's important that when the players wear the jersey on this tour, they live up to the tradition and the history of the jersey," he said. "I think when you look back at some of the players that have won the British and Irish Lions jersey down the years, there were great players.
"Maybe in 2005 we didn't live up to that. A lot of things went against us on the tour and at the same time I don't think we did the tradition proud. I think for me personally, looking back at 2005 is a big motivation."
"I know for a few other guys that were on the tour, it's the same thing. Living up to the tradition of the jersey is a big thing for us. A lot of us when we play for our clubs give everything playing for Munster or Ireland. I think the same thing applies when we play for the British and Irish Lions."
Former Lions skipper Gavin Hastings echoed the sentiments of O'Connell, believing that the Lions concept would be thrown in to doubt should the side fail to compete as they did in 2005.
"If we are singularly as non-competitive as we were in 2005 there will be people who will question whether the Lions has much more of a future," Hastings told The Mirror. "There's an awful lot of people who pay vast sums of money to go and watch the Lions. That has been the undoubted success of the last three tours. But they're not going to keep on going if they feel they've got no chance of seeing the team win Test matches."