British & Irish Lions
O'Connell's men looking to end tour on a high
July 1, 2009
Lions captain Paul O'Connell says his team are looking to finish their series with a win on Saturday © Getty Images
British & Irish Lions captain Paul O'Connell insists the pride his men have in the famous red jersey will galvanise them for one final assault on South Africa in their third Test clash in Johannesburg on Saturday.
South Africa wrapped up the series with a dramatic 28-25 victory over the Lions in Pretoria last weekend with Morne Steyn sealing the win with the last kick of a brutal and brilliant match at Loftus Versfeld. Despite that fatal blow to their tour hopes, O'Connell is confident his side can reproduce the ferocity and intensity levels that saw them dominate the hosts for much of the game last weekend.
"The guys are enthusiastic to do that again," said O'Connell. "It is not ideal. Everything isn't on the line like it was last Saturday but for a lot of us it will be a chance to pull on a Lions Test jersey again and we will not take that lightly.
"We want to win in a Lions jersey. There is a massive respect for what the Lions are among the squad. Chatting among the players you really do feel that all the time. Pulling on a Test jersey will be big for whoever gets picked. It will be a massive motivation for everyone.
"You look at the intensity of last weekend and you have to bring everything you have to the table. Passion and emotion are important parts to the game - I think we can replicate it. I think we will be eager to prove ourselves. Being 2-0 down is probably not a true reflection of where we are."
The player's were given a few days off following their bruising encounter in Pretoria and returned to training today in Johannesburg ahead of the tour finale.
"The last few days have been tough. I have enjoyed the tour and enjoyed how the players have aspired to achieve so much. They have really aspired to win for the Lions," added O'Connell. "But in terms of enjoyment, the only real enjoyment comes from winning. In the last two weeks we have come close but we haven't had that. It makes the tour tough and it has made the last few days tough. But there is a good eagerness there now to finish off the tour strongly and put in a good finish."
The Lions have lost seven Tests in a row, their last victory in Brisbane in 2001 and their quest to stem that losing tide is not helped by a number of injuries to key players. Gethin Jenkins (fractured cheekbone), Adam Jones (dislocated shoulder) and Brian O'Driscoll (concussion) are all out of the game.
The Lions announce their team on Thursday and O'Connell believes the spirit within the camp means that they will be up to the task at Ellis Park on Saturday.
"Any team in the world that loses a player of the calibre of Brian O'Driscoll is going to be at a loss," said O'Connell. "Brian has been incredibly valuable - but the player that comes in will be very hungry. Guys have been training and working on their game non-stop because they are aware on the last two tours how many changes there were through the Test series. The guys that do get picked should be very hungry."
In related news, Lions scrum coach Graham Rowntree has followed-up Brian O'Driscoll's criticism of Springbok coach Peter de Villiers, calling his comments in the wake of Schalk Burger's ban for eye-gouging "crass" and "pathetic."
On top of appearing to defend Burger's actions, for which he has since apologised, De Villiers has also said that Ian McGeechan had failed to congratulate him on winning the series. This claim has been disputed by Lions media manager Greg Thomas who insists that McGeechan twice congratulated De Villiers and also shook his hand.
O'Driscoll described the Bok coach's comments as an "absolute disgrace", "despicable" and "mind-boggling," a sentiment shared by Rowntree.
"The comment was completely out of order," he said. "It was a crass comment, pathetic really, and I am glad he has had to withdraw it. There is no place in the game for gouging - I think it is ridiculous what he said.
"For any young aspiring player or parents of young players watching that game, and then the national coach almost saying (gouging) is okay, I think is ridiculous. We are upset by it. You can't get away with making those comments. The actual incident has been dealt with. Burger has been banned and we will move on."
O'Connell also questioned De Villiers' remarks in the aftermath of last Saturday's game. "I think it was a bad comment to make. We have all made mistakes, and he made a big one on Saturday."
A win for South Africa on Saturday would secure a first Test series whitewash in 118 years of fixtures against the Lions and Rowntree is expecting nothing less than a fully committed Springboks performance.
"I think they will try and whitewash us won't they? They will try and make it 3-0," he said. "They will think we are on the ropes, that we are down emotionally and physically. They will fancy their chances.
"We don't deserve to go home (beaten) 3-0, and that's what is driving us on this week. Believe me, we have got plenty in the tank. Yes, they (the players) were battered and bruised emotionally and physically after the game last week, but they will be up for the game, come the weekend. We've lost a Test series over the two games by eight points, not by 38. We gave it everything."