BOD and POC talk about the tour

Forum for discussion of the British and Irish Lions trip to South Africa in 2009

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BOD and POC talk about the tour

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Paul O'Connell and Brian O'Driscoll bask in the pride of the British and Irish Lions
It was one of the finest Test series ever. Three months after it finished, the exploits of the 2009 British and Irish Lions in South Africa still dominate rugby conversations.

Published: 10:00PM BST 26 Sep 2009 ... ational/br itishandirishlionsrugby/6231469/Paul-OConnell-and-Brian-ODri scoll-bask-in-the-pride-of-the-British-and-Irish-Lions.html

Alpha male: Captain Paul O'Connell addresses his Lions in training in South Africa Photo: PA
Here, for the first time since they returned from South Africa, Paul O'Connell, the captain, and Brian O'Driscoll look back over the tour and dissect life after the Lions.
Ackford: What are your reflections on the Lions tour? Do you regard it as a success or a big disappointment?

O'Connell: Not a big disappointment, but I definitely look back with regret. The more I think about it, the more I regret it. It was a fabulous experience, but when you look at that '97 team [the 1997 Lions won the series 2-1 against the Springboks], they're legends, and it's just a pity we couldn't do the same. Sometimes it's easier to walk away when the margin of defeat is big.
Ackford: Have you worked out where and why you fell short?
O'Driscoll: Not really. The second Test was the painful one, giving up the lead the way we did and losing in the last minute. But I don't feel the need to go back and analyse everything. We're never going to be with that team again.
Ackford: Were you pleased with your own individual contributions? How do you feel you went, as players and senior figures?
O'Connell: It's not really about that. At times I definitely would have liked to have played better, but it doesn't always work out that way. You've really got to look at what we did as a team. For a side that came together to take on the world champions inside six weeks, we did quite well.
Ackford: But I think it is about individual contributions. One of the privileges of being a Lion is that it tests you across a range of indicators. Do you not look at Lions tours like that, to see whether or not you fronted up?
O'Connell: A little bit. I wouldn't be worried about myself as a player. I know what I am and what I can do. I know how much I need to improve. I've been on a Lions tour before with that kind of attitude and it didn't go very well for me. My main focus was on forging a strong team, having a bit of craic and making sure that we had a simple way of playing together. With short tours, you have to work on the team more than yourself.
O'Driscoll: There was a big emphasis on enjoyment because there was not a huge amount of that in 2005 [when the Lions toured New Zealand]. Ian McGeechan [Lions head coach] said at the start that if we didn't do anything else, we were going to have a good time.
Ackford: The behind-the-scenes DVD is being released soon, and there is a clip of McGeechan breaking down and sobbing at one point. Were you aware of that?
O'Connell: Yeah, I would have been aware of him getting emotional. There was a lot of that from all the coaches. So many coaches these days are clinical and dispassionate, but that went away on this Lions tour. The way 'Geech' and Warren Gatland and Shaun Edwards spoke about the Lions was kind of cool that way. It was very old school. We went back in time.
O'Driscoll: Sometimes in modern rugby there's a cop-out with coaches, in that they say, 'You're an experienced player, you teach yourself'. That's nonsense. Players need to be taught every time they go out on to a rugby pitch. Trying new things and hearing new voices is important.
Ackford: Who were the fun guys to be around?
O'Connell: The main guy was probably Andy Powell [Wales No 8]. He was living on a different planet. He was just a funny, laid-back guy, capable of saying anything and doing anything. Mike Phillips [Wales scrum-half] was also a very funny fella. Great player. Great character.
O'Driscoll: I roomed with Phillsy. Sometimes you can make assumptions about people without knowing them, and, maybe, from things I had heard about him, I did so. I now know how wrong I was. He entertained me no end.
Ackford: What about the Boks? Were they as you expected? Did you get an insight into them as a rugby nation or people?
O'Connell: They definitely played as we expected. They were tough, physical. That's the way it is with them because, genetically, they're such big men. We didn't get to spend as much time with them as we would have liked. They left early after the third Test, but in the short period we did spend with them they seemed top guys. It's funny. When you do meet up, you realise that rugby players playing at the top of the game are all very similar personality-wise.
Ackford: What's an archetypal international rugby player look like then?
O'Connell: There are two sides, an on-pitch side and an off-pitch side, and both are different. Most people in the world would hate Alan Quinlan [Munster and Ireland back row forward], for instance, if they only saw his on-pitch aspect.
Ackford: Why? Because he's uncompromising, obstinate.
O'Connell: Yeah, obstinate, and mouthing at everyone, mouthing at referees, his own players, opposition players, everyone. But that's the animal that comes out on the pitch. Until you spend time with guys away from the game, you don't get to understand what they are really like. Take Matt Dawson on the 2005 Lions tour. He turned out to be a great guy, a guy I got on with very well. Going out to New Zealand, I wouldn't have thought that.
Ackford: It was a difficult summer for rugby in many ways, what with Bloodgate and the drug-taking at Bath. Did that pass you by over here?
O'Connell: No. We came across it in the paper an awful lot. It was disappointing. I felt sorry for [Tom] Williams. No player ever runs up to the coach saying he has an idea for a blood injury. If the guy who's paying your wages suggests something, it's difficult. Williams wasn't an entirely innocent party, but he got badly treated. It wouldn't be the first time I've heard it happening in matches. I think this will probably bring it to a head, though. It was come down on so hard that I can't see it happening again.
Ackford: Heard of what happening?
O'Connell: I hadn't heard of the trick of cutting and stitching players before the game, nor have I come across blood capsules but, generally speaking, if you want to get a player off with a blood injury, it's very easy to find blood on him somewhere. I've heard of it being done.
Ackford: You played in that game, Brian.
O'Driscoll: I had no idea what was going on. There was too much to worry about given the state of the game.
Ackford: What about afterwards? There must have been some chat.
O'Driscoll: There was talk about it but, because we had won the game, it didn't matter. If a kick had gone over, things would have been very different. We would have been a lot more sour.
Ackford: What worries you about the game currently? There's no doubt it's hugely physical. Brian, it seems as if you were permanently bashed up last season. Is that an issue?
O'Connell: The treatment we get now is 10 times better than it ever was. But the physicality is at a level where guys are so big and so fit that the hits are happening for the full 80 minutes, rather than once or twice within a game. For me, that is what makes the game brilliant. The hits in that second Test made it an incredible match. If guys weren't earning a penny that day, it wouldn't have mattered. They were one hundred per cent playing for the jersey. The physical nature of the game is worrying, though. Double hits are getting more prevalent, and the injury toll is getting heavier and higher. The game is better to watch, but it is becoming a lot tougher to play.
Ackford: Brian, you came off in that second Test with a bang to your head.
O'Driscoll: I was away with the fairies a bit. I haven't picked up many head injuries, but when you get two in one season it does make you think.
Ackford: It doesn't worry you, though?
O'Driscoll: What are the options? Are you going to sit at home and think about the possible damage that might happen to you? What's the advantage of doing that? You train hard, and you hope you are going to be lucky, but that's why we play the game, for the fact that it is hard and uncompromising. I think that the second Test will go down as one of the better games I've been involved in during my career, even though we lost it in the dying seconds.
Ackford: What ambitions are there left for you guys? Lions tours are seen as watersheds after all.
O'Connell: I think there's a danger of detailing those ambitions. Before the last World Cup with Ireland we went through a period where we articulated what we were aiming to achieve and that undid us in that World Cup. Last season we took each match as it came. I'd love to go on a Lions tour and win it. I'd love to go to a World Cup and win it. But I think going game by game is the answer.
O'Driscoll: The big thing for me is to improve. If you continue to get better as an individual, and as a team, you are giving yourself the opportunity to be in the mix more often. As I see the end of my career approaching, I'm glad that's where I'm at because there were probably a couple of years in my mid-twenties when I could have been more professional.
Ackford: Before you arrived, Paul, we were talking about Gavin Henson, and how he seems to have gone off the rails. He's not made the Ospreys Heineken Cup squad and no one seems to know what to do with him. Can you understand the pressures involved on a talent like that?
O'Connell: It's hard. You never lose your love of the game. Plenty of guys who have finished playing still go to matches. But sometimes you can lose your competitive instincts, and the desire to eat right all day, to train hard, to go to bed early, even on weekends, fades. You have to have a big competitive edge to want to do that all the time, year in, year out, just so that you can be ready for those two or three games a season when you achieve something special. When the edge goes, that's when the game can become very hard. I'm not sure if that's what has happened to Gavin. I do know that he is an incredible talent.
Ackford: Does that make sense to you, Brian?
O'Driscoll: Yes it does. I know there are some people [pointing to O'Connell] who are never going to lose their competitive edge.
Ackford: That's quite a dull scenario you descried a while back, Paul. Do you not think sometimes you've missed a chunk of your life living this monastic existence?
O'Connell: I haven't been that monastic, I can tell you. I do know it's incredibly difficult to recognise what lies behind winning, especially when the margins are so small. Look at us with the Six Nations, coming close year after year but never winning it. I find it very stimulating trying to figure out how to crack that, from being on the edge for so long to finally getting over the line.
O'Driscoll: Of course there are elements you sacrifice, but the pros massively outweigh the disadvantages. Like everyone else, you have your bad Mondays, but the great thing about going into work on Monday, when things are rough, is that you can go into the gym and get stuck into some exercise and experience the endorphin release. I'm not sure that's the case if you're looking at a balance sheet on a Monday morning.
Ackford: What did you learn about yourselves from the recent Lions tour? Did it teach you anything about yourselves as people?
O'Driscoll: This might sound a bit clichéd, but I found out what Lions tours are really about because we were in a Third World country. Seeing the other side of South Africa, the townships, genuinely moved me, and I felt the better for having been there. That one day we spent meeting the children of Masibambane [as part of tour sponsor HSBC's grass-roots initiative] was truly memorable.
Ackford: I'm told there's a photograph in your house from that visit with you carrying a smiling four-year-old girl on your shoulders. What do you think of when you look at that picture?
O'Driscoll: Just that when you are having a downer, as everyone does, you're not having it that bad, and that people with so much less seem so much happier. I'm sure that they have their own problems, and maybe it's some kind of front, but that's some front they're putting up.
Ackford: The autumn internationals will be upon us soon. Can you give me a sense of the world order as you see it?
O'Connell: You'd have to put South Africa at the top of the tree. They've beaten New Zealand away from home. They're right up there. After that, it's very hard to tell. There are probably six other countries competing for the No 2 slot.
O'Driscoll: One of the good things is that rugby is more of a mixed bag here in Europe. Having said that, everyone realises that the single most important factor behind winning or losing games is whether you dominate at the ruck. You can have the most elaborate game plan in the world, but if you come off second-best at ruck time, then you're losing the game.
Ackford: Last question. Who's the better captain?
O'Driscoll: I sometimes think that it's easier to be a leader when you're not captain. Having a captain's armband brings with it an expectation to say so much. That shouldn't be the case. When you are captain and you're quiet it means that the job is being done for you. The last thing you want is for yours to be the only voice. God, there's nothing worse.
O'Connell: The most successful teams have maybe four, five or even six possible captains and those guys never really defer to the captain. They are just themselves. That's what we had with Ireland last season, and I think that's what England had during their successful period.
Ackford: Sure, but that's not answering the question. Who's the better captain?
O'Connell: Him.
O'Driscoll: Him.
“As you all know first prize is a Cadillac El Dorado. Anyone wanna see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you're fired.”

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