British & Irish Lions
O'Connell tipped to lead Lions
April 19, 2009
O'Connell helped steer Ireland to a long-awaited Six Nations Grand Slam last month © Getty Images
Ireland lock Paul O'Connell is the favourite to be named captain of the British & Irish Lions on Tuesday when the squad to tour South Africa later this summer is announced.
The Munster stalwart is set to edge out his international skipper Brian O'Driscoll when the tour party and captain are announced by Lions coach Ian McGeechan and tour manager Gerald Davies on Tuesday.
The Sunday Telegraph, citing sources close to McGeechan, reports that the 29-year-old lock is the preferred option to lead the tour party ahead of Ireland's Grand Slam-winning captain.
McGeechan has long been an advocate of a forward taking on the captaincy and famously opted for Martin Johnson to lead the 1997 tourists to ensure a physical presence on and off the field. "What I really loved was the idea that when the South African captain came to toss up, he had to look up at the Lions captain," he recalled in his account of the victorious tour 12 years ago.
McGeechan, who has toured with the Lions six times as player and coach, underlined his preference after the autumn internationals. "It's your pack that sets the tone," he said. "If there isn't an obvious captain there I won't force one. But if there is an obvious captain amongst the forwards, then I do think it has merit."
O'Connell was a key player in Ireland's Grand Slam glory in this year's Six Nations and will lead his province Munster into an all-Irish Heineken Cup semi-final showdown with Leinster next month after a comprehensive victory over Ospreys last weekend. Capped 62 times by his country, he was also a member of the Lions squad that suffered a series defeat at the hands of New Zealand in 2005.
O'Connell is set to become the sixth Irishman to lead a Lions tour in the post-war era with the legendary Willie John McBride the only player to achieve a series victory in 1974.
Former Ireland hooker and Lions international Keith Wood has backed O'Driscoll to accept the decision if it is confirmed. "Geech knows the attributes of both O'Connell and O'Driscoll, and what they would bring to the team," he told the Sunday Mirror. "I'm sure O'Driscoll will have no problems if O'Connell does get the job. Being Ireland team-mates and knowing each other so well means that arrangement would fit OK.
"It's been a roller-coaster year for Brian. He had a poor autumn by his own standards but enjoyed an outstanding Six Nations where he was magnificent and an inspiration to all his team-mates."
The squad announcement is also set to be notable for the omission of several big names with the likes of Wales' Gavin Henson and England's Jonny Wilkinson set to miss out due to injury.
Lions tour manager Gerald Davies confirmed to the newspaper that players currently injured will not be considered. "If they are not fit, they are not coming," Davies said. "Unless they are available to play this weekend they are not available for selection."
Davies, who played five Tests for the Lions in 1968 and 1971, also indicated that there would be few surprises in the 35 or 36 man squad. "We have had an open mind on players who didn't make their countries' Six Nations squads, but I can't imagine we will be going outside of those squads," he said. "It is fair to assume that the Lions will come from the Six Nations squads."
Reports also suggest that England skipper Steve Borthwick and Wales captain Ryan Jones will be two more high-profile casualties with the latter suffering a loss of form that has seen him drop from a contender to lead the Lions to a fringe squad player.