British & Irish Lions
Jones defends O'Connell's captaincy
July 10, 2009
Lions fly-half Stephen Jones salutes Lions fans after the third Test victory in Johannesburg © Getty Images
British & Irish Lions fly-half Stephen Jones believes the tourists' skipper Paul O'Connell did a "remarkable job" on the recent trip to South Africa.
O'Connell's appointment as skipper was questioned as soon as it was confirmed in April, with many believing his compatriot Brian O'Driscoll to be the better qualified candidate for the position. As a result, it came as no surprise when the Munster man's leadership skills were slated after the Lions lost their first two Tests against the Springboks.
However, despite the series loss, Jones is in no doubt that O'Connell was the right man to lead the Lions in South Africa.
"He was absolutely fantastic. He's a superb leader," the Wales No.10 told Scrum.com. "You've got to understand how difficult a challenge it is to captain a side representing four different rugby cultures, four different rugby philosophies.
"The true mark of the man was the way in which he brought us together when he spoke to us the week before we left for South Africa. He spoke very, very well and laid the foundations for the tour that day.
"A great captain is able to keep his emotions to himself and just focus on leading others and Paul's body language was always strong. He always hit the right notes when he spoke to us. The true test of a captain comes when he's under pressure and he did a remarkable job.
"I really can't say enough good things about him, both as a captain and a man."
Jones also believes that the tour should be viewed as a success because of the spirit, resilience and character the players showed in bouncing back from the agony of a last-gasp defeat in the second Test - as well as the loss of several key players to injury. A fact that was underlined as they went on to claim a resounding 28-9 victory over the Springboks in the series finale in Johannesburg last Saturday.
"We were bitterly disappointed at being 2-0 down after two Test matches because we didn't feel that a reflection of how things had gone. We didn't want it to be a whitewash, so winning the third Test meant a huge amount to the players," he said.
"We just hope that all of the supporters will be proud of what we put in and maybe we've restored some pride in the jersey. It was something truly special to have toured with that group of players and I enjoyed every minute of it.
"Success is always measured by a series win and it's frustrating that we didn't obtain that in the end. But, from a personal point of view, it was a really good tour, a successful tour."