O’Connell: ‘We can be legends’

Paul O’Connell has hit back at Peter de Villiers’s jibe saying legend status is ultimately defined by a Lions tour success.

As reported by keo.co.za on Wednesday, the Springbok coach said the 1974 Lions were legends but the 2009 bunch that recently arrived in South Africa could not compare. De Villiers said that in the current Lions squad there are no legends.

Given the opportunity to respond on Thursday, O’Connell, the incumbent Lions skipper, made a brief but valid point.

‘What made the 1974 side legends was that they won in South Africa. A win in South Africa this year would be massive for all of our careers. The Lions tour to South Africa has always been seen as the pinnacle of a player from the home unions’ career,’ he said.

‘It’s a bit early to be talking about legend status though. We have to concentrate on ourselves and getting things within our own structures right before we start worrying about the Springboks.’

O’Connell was a youngster on the last Lions tour to New Zealand and realises the challenge of focusing the talent of four countries into one team.

While the title of legend may be subjective, the Lions aren’t short on individual talent. Mike Blair and Shane Williams (the eventual winner) were nominated for the 2008 IRB Player of the Year award while big names like Andrew Sheridan, Brian O’Driscoll and Ronan O’Gara are known the world over for their individual exploits.

Nevertheless, the Lions will concentrate on putting team before individual. It’s the only way they beat the Boks in 1997 and it’s the only way they’ll manage a similar upset in 2009.

‘We’ll certainly need that individual flair to come out, but there’s no fear of our guys playing as individuals,’ stressed O’Connell. ‘We’re building towards the Tests and trying to get things right as a team but we’ll also need our individuals to produce those magic touches.’

By Jon Cardinelli, in Johannesburg