Ireland’s Paul O’Connell has been confirmed as captain of the British & Irish Lions 37-man squad to tour South Africa.
Coach Ian McGeechan named an extended squad as a large number of the players could be involved in the European Cup final on 23 May, a day before they fly out. Ireland are best represented with 14 players, Wales with 13, while there are eight Englishman and just two Scots.
O’Connell follows in the footsteps of Martin Johnson 12 years ago as McGeechan has opted for a lock as well as a player who doesn’t lead their own country. Brian O’Driscoll captains Ireland and is the only leader of the home nation teams selected as Ryan Jones, Mike Blair and Steve Borthwick have all been omitted.
‘Paul O’Connell has shown over his career that he is a natural leader both on and off the field,’ said McGeechan.
‘He leads from the front on the field and as a quality international has the respect of his fellow players all over the world. As a member of the 2005 tour to New Zealand he played in five matches including three Tests so knows all about the ethos and challenges of Lions tours,’ he said.
There is also no place for Jonny Wilkinson, Danny Cipriani or Gavin Henson, who could have been surprise inclusions but lack of game-time and form has counted against them.
Players who weren’t expected to be members of the touring party include Irish utility back Keith Earls, English wing Ugo Monye, Irish loose-forward Alan Quinlan (who is one of four loosies from the country), as well as 36-year-old English lock Simon Shaw.
Selections such as Shaw’s indicate that McGeechan has clearly opted for a massive pack to take on the Springboks up-front, as well as the coach favouring experience as Shaw was the only player who toured South Africa with the Lions in 1997.
‘I look forward to working with Paul and the entire squad over the coming months as we strive to develop a side that can add a successful chapter in the long history of the Lions,’ said McGeechan.
Lions Squad –
Backs: Lee Byrne, Rob Kearney, Shane Williams, Leigh Halfpenney, Ugo Monye, Luke Fitzgerald, Tommy Bowe, Tom Shanklin, Jamie Roberts, Brian O’Driscoll, Keith Earls, Riki Flutey, Ronan O’Gara, Stephen Jones, Mike Phillips, Harry Ellis, Tomas O’Leary
Forwards: Jamie Heaslip, Andy Powell, David Wallace, Stephen Ferris, Alan Quinlan, Joe Worsley, Martyn Williams, Alun-Wyn Jones, Paul O’Connell (c), Donncha O’Callaghan, Simon Shaw, Nathan Hines, Gethin Jenkins, Adam Jones, Andrew Sheridan, Phil Vickery, Euan Murray, Jerry Flannery, Lee Mears, Matthew Rees.