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04th Jul 2021

Paul O’Connell’s words still resonating with newest Lions crop

Patrick McCarry

Paul O'Connell

The Irishman’s Lions legacy lives on.

Back in 2009, Paul O’Connell was British & Irish Lions captain and South Africa were the team to beat.

O’Connell led the Lions superbly but they fell to a narrow Test Series loss. Four years later and O’Connell, in his third tour, finally got a series win. He was an inspiration in the First Test victory over the Wallabies, finishing out the game even after he fractured his arm with 10 minutes to play.

Such was O’Connell’s importance as a senior figure within the squad that Warren Gatland asked him to stay on for the rest of the series as the Lions beat Australia 2-1.

To this day, Gatland has taken advice imparted to him, and the Lions squad, by O’Connell when the Kiwi was forwards coach on that 2009 tour:

“Let’s be the best at everything that requires no talent.”

O’Connell was talking about the stuff that needs to be done to win matches but is rarely talked about – getting back up after making a hit, cleaning out rucks, chasing back, re-joining the defensive line, being on time for training, supporting each other and so much more.

“It is a piece of advice I use to this very day,” Gatland declared.

Scotland’s Stuart Hogg was captain for the Lions in their win over Sigma Lions. (Credit: Getty Images)

After the Lions defeated the Sigma Lions, on Saturday, captain Stuart Hogg spoke about a key component of that victory. His words echoed those of O’Connell’s from 12 years ago.

“At times we went to dark places,” Hogg said. “We made ourselves uncomfortable in the way that we were defending, the way that we were trying to attack.

“We wanted to win the no-talent battles, things that require no talent, and that’s getting up off the deck and getting yourself back in the game and making it as difficult as we possibly can for the opposition.

“At times we got that spot on, but for me the exciting thing is we can get better. We can get better individually and we can get better collectively. We want to be a formidable defensive unit because that will win you Test matches. We work incredibly hard and we want to be tough to beat.”

One moment in the game summed up what Hogg was talking about. On 48 minutes, with the Lions only 28-14 ahead, Hogg made a lung-busting sprint to chase down flanker Sibusiso Sangweni to prevent what looked like a certain try.

Had Sagweni scored, it would have been a one-score game going into the final 30 minutes. As it was, the Scots’ tackle got his team off the hook and the Lions took it from there – running in a further four tries.

The no-talent battles. Paul O’Connell would have approved.



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