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O'Connell handed Lions captaincy

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'Massive honour' for Lions captain O'Connell

Ireland's Paul O'Connell has been confirmed as British and Irish Lions captain for the three-Test summer tour to South Africa.

The lock was one of a record 14 Irish players included in head coach Ian McGeechan's 37-man squad on Tuesday.

The party also features 13 Welshmen, eight from England but only two Scots.

Munster duo Keith Earls and Alan Quinlan were surprise call-ups, while Welsh wing Leigh Halfpenny and England lock Simon Shaw also made the squad.

England wing Ugo Monye is also on the plane, but national captains Steve Borthwick of England, Ryan Jones of Wales and Mike Blair of Scotland were among those left out.

It's important you do have forwards that are comfortable on the ball as well as being big men

Lions head coach Ian McGeechan

With Wales' Lee Byrne and Ireland's Rob Kearney the only full-backs in the squad, another surprise omission was England's Delon Armitage.

Leicester flanker Tom Croft, whose aerial prowess and athletic ability came to the fore in England's final two Six Nations matches, also misses out, along with international team-mate and Wasps fly-half Danny Cipriani and Wales and Ospreys number 10 James Hook.

The 21-year-old Earls, who can play centre or full-back, has two Ireland caps but did not feature in the Grand Slam-winning side during the Six Nations campaign.

"Keith had a cracking start to his season, and we kept an eye on him," said McGeechan. "He gives something as an option at full-back or outside centre, and he is playing very confidently."

Shaw, 35, is the only player in the squad who featured on the previous tour of South Africa, when Martin Johnson led the Lions to a 2-1 series victory in 1997.

The abrasive Quinlan, 34, is not a regular with Ireland but is a player McGeechan believes "will have quite a big impact on the environment and the character of the squad as it evolves."

McGeechan, who as head coach appointed Johnson as skipper 12 years ago, believes O'Connell has similar qualities to the England legend and is the ideal man to lead the Lions, on and off the field.

"He leads from the front on the field and as a quality international has the respect of his fellow players all over the world," said the Scot.

Ireland's Paul O'Connell with coach Ian McGeechan (left) and tour manager Gerald Davies
Ireland's Paul O'Connell has won three Lions Test caps

"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.

"I look forward to working with him 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."

O'Connell, who featured in all three of the Lions Tests in the 3-0 defeat by New Zealand in 2005, said he was honoured to have the chance to captain the side against the world champions.

"This was never something I aspired to do but to be selected is a great honour," said the 29-year-old, who has made 62 Test appearances for Ireland and who got the nod ahead of his international skipper Brian O'Driscoll.

"I looked at the squad last night and it will be a privilege to lead them. It's a great honour considering the captains that have gone before me, some of them legends of the game.

"Brian O'Driscoll gave me a ring the other day after we had spoken to Ian and was great about it. The main thing will be leaning on the experience of the coaches and leaders within the squad.

"It needs to be a big squad effort. That will be the secret to any success. The more people who have input the better."

LIONS COACHING STAFF
Head coach - Ian McGeechan
Two-time Lions tourist, four-time Lions coach, former Scotland coach, Wasps director of rugby
Backs coach - Rob Howley
Two-time Lions tourist, Wales attack coach
Forwards coach - Warren Gatland
Wales and former Ireland head coach
Defence coach - Shaun Edwards
Wales assistant coach, Wasps head coach
Scrum coach - Graham Rowntree
Two-time Lions tourist, England scrum coach

Former Lions scrum-half Matt Dawson told BBC Radio 5 Live that O'Connell has "the Martin Johnson type quality about him".

"He leads by example. He has blossomed as an experienced player over the past year or so. He's been through the mill and it is a perfect opportunity and time for him to captain the Lions."

And former Lions hooker Keith Wood agreed that his former team-mate was the ideal man for the job.

Wood told BBC Radio 5 Live: "There is a new level of maturity and he is a leader by example.

"He talks very well and he understands how to be a captain. There is the upmost respect for him across Ireland."

McGeechan said he opted for physical ball carriers among the forwards to combat the threat posed by South Africa's Bakkies Botha and Schalk Burger.

"It's important you do have forwards that are comfortable on the ball as well as being big men," he told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"Simon Shaw is one of the most skilful forwards I've ever coached. Nathan Hines is the same. Paul O'Connell gets his hands on the ball quite a lot."

Lions scrum coach Graham Rowntree added: "It's important that we took some physical animals. Because that's what South Africa are.

606: DEBATE
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"They demonstrated that in the autumn internationals, how athletic they are and big. It's important that we took some character to match that and better that."

McGeechan conceded he faced difficult decisions refining his squad to the 37 players unveiled at a Heathrow hotel.

"Over the last six months the Lions coaching staff has attended countless matches, analysed endless games and taken the counsel of national and domestic coaches," stated McGeechan.

"Today marks the end of a comprehensive and detailed selection process.

"Naturally there were some tough decisions and there will be disappointed players but I am confident that this is a very strong and capable squad.

Lions trip is the pinnacle - Ferris

"Its composition reflects the form shown in the Six Nations and domestic rugby and has a balanced blend of experience and youth."

Lions tour manager Gerald Davies added: "Being selected as a Lion is a huge honour for a player and marks a major highlight in his career.

"We now have a short space of time in which to prepare for the tour and build a team that is capable of taking on the world champions.

"They might hail from four different countries but on tour they will play for the one jersey, one philosophy, one style and have one ambition: to return home as winners."

Members of the Lions squad not still involved with their clubs in the Heineken Cup, the Guinness Premiership play-offs or the Magners League will head to the Spanish town of Grenada the week after next for some altitude training before heading to South Africa on 24 May.

The whole squad are due to assemble at a holding camp in Surrey the week before departure, but if Munster and Cardiff Blues both reach the Heineken Cup final on 23 May, 14 Lions will be involved in that.

McGeechan added that one of the reasons he opted to take 37 players, rather than his original idea of 35 or 36, was to give those players more time to recover.


British and Irish Lions squad to tour South Africa (age-club-country):

Full-back

Lee Byrne (28) Ospreys and Wales
Rob Kearney (23) Leinster and Ireland

Wing

Shane Williams (32) Ospreys and Wales
Leigh Halfpenny (20) Cardiff Blues and Wales
Ugo Monye (26) Harlequins and England
Luke Fitzgerald (21) Leinster and Ireland
Tommy Bowe (25) Ospreys and Ireland

Centres

Tom Shanklin (29) Cardiff Blues and Wales
Jamie Roberts (22) Cardiff Blues and Wales
Brian O'Driscoll (30) Leinster and Ireland
Keith Earls (21) Munster and Ireland
Riki Flutey (29) Wasps and England

Fly-half

Ronan O'Gara (32) Munster and Ireland
Stephen Jones (31) Llanelli Scarlets and Wales

Scrum-half

Mike Phillips (26) Ospreys and Wales
Harry Ellis (26) Leicester and England
Tomas O'Leary (25) Munster and Ireland

Prop

Gethin Jenkins (28) Cardiff Blues and Wales
Adam Jones (28) Ospreys and Wales
Andrew Sheridan (29) Sale and England
Phil Vickery (33) Wasps and England
Euan Murray (28) Northampton and Scotland

Hooker

Jerry Flannery (30) Munster and Ireland
Lee Mears (30) Bath and England
Matthew Rees (28) Llanelli Scarlets and Wales

Lock

Paul O'Connell, capt (29) Munster and Ireland
Alun Wyn Jones (23) Ospreys and Wales
Donncha O'Callaghan (30) Munster and Ireland
Nathan Hines (32) Perpignan and Scotland
Simon Shaw (35) Wasps and England

Back-row

David Wallace (32) Munster and Ireland
Stephen Ferris (23) Ulster and Ireland
Alan Quinlan (34) Munster and Ireland
Joe Worsley (31) Wasps and England
Martyn Williams (33) Cardiff Blues and Wales
Jamie Heaslip (25) Leinster and Ireland
Andy Powell (27) Cardiff Blues and Wales


Tour fixtures:

30 May: Highveld XV; Royal Bafokeng, Rustenburg
3 June: Golden Lions; Ellis Park, Johannesburg
6 June: Cheetahs; Vodacom Park, Bloemfontein
10 June: Sharks; ABSA Park, Durban
13 June: Western Province; Newlands, Cape Town
16/17 June: Coastal XV; Port Elizabeth (Venue to be confirmed)
20 June: South Africa(first Test) ; ABSA Park, Durban
23 June: Emerging Springboks; Newlands, Cape Town
27 June: South Africa (second Test) ; Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
4 July: South Africa (third Test) ; Ellis Park, Johannesburg



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Telfer worried by low Lions count
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Halfpenny targets Lions Test spot
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Reaction of Wales' 2009 Lions
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Lion Ellis backs excluded Croft
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Ferris is among 14 Ireland Lions
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Ryan Jones suffers shock omission
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Lions squad selector
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McGeechan eyeing Lions hopefuls
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Wilkinson's Lions hopes receding
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Henson not fit for Lions - Davies
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Davies defuses Wales-Ireland row
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Video - 2009 Six Nations review
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