Lions flank Stephen Ferris believes his Irish counterparts Paul O’Connell and Brian O’Driscoll can form a formidable leadership team in South Africa.
Ian McGeechan’s preference for a forward leader meant O’Connell was named captain in April, with his national skipper O’Driscoll demoted after captaining the squad in 2005. Ferris, who became a regular starter for the Paddies in this year’s Six Nations Grand Slam run, doesn’t believe this will cause a rift within the group.
O’Driscoll has never hidden his disappointment in the aftermath of the team announcement, but Ferris doesn’t feel this will hinder the team. The Ulster blindside flanker, who stands an imposing 1.93m and 109kg and is the Lions’ best bench-presser, lists Munsterman O’Connell as his toughest opponent and emphasised how he has the respect of every team member.
‘Paul will bring the same elements to the Lions as he does to Ireland,’ Ferris told keo.co.za. ‘There he shares the load with Brian, and I think they’ll perform a similar role here. The two of them get on really well and that’s good for the team.
‘Paul is the motivator, geeing the guys up and leading from the front, and while Brian may be a bit quieter, he plays an important role. Guys like Phil Vickery have also been influential already on the tour.’
Building a team spirit and unity is crucial in a Lions tour and every member of the British & Irish contingent has been at pains to stake how the squad has gelled in the first seven days.
‘We’ve just been meeting all the guys and getting to know them,’ said Ferris. ‘It’s just brilliant all the countries coming together and the team atmosphere is fantastic – I thought it would be much harder – but everyone gets along.’
McGeechan has also reverted to an old-school touring approach, after the debacle of four years ago, where players will room together and will share the odd pint together.
‘We’ve been working hard at training sessions, but there has also been time for some rest. Recovery will be vital on a longer tour.
‘We’ve also had time to have fun, we’ve all stood up and told the guys about ourselves – whether we have kids, talked about our girlfriend and so on. We’ve relaxed and have been for a few quiet beers. We also watched the Leinster game, which was great,’ Ferris said in reference to O’Driscoll’s team capturing the European Cup.
McGeechan has a made it a habit of moulding individuals into impressive units. The dynamic between the leaders in the squad should be interesting and the true sentiment between the Irish duo will only play out in the crunch moments in the Tests.
By Grant Ball, in Johannesburg