Paul O’Connell’s installation as Ireland’s ninth Lions captain, more than twice the record of the next ‘skipper-most’ British & Irish nation, will add extra spice to Munster’s upcoming European Cup semi-final clash with Brian O’Driscoll and co.
Few would argue had the Leinster centre got the nod after his Herculean exploits during Ireland’s Grand Slam success. However, O’Connell is obviously seen as the sort of leader the Lions will need – physically imposing, with no psychological baggage – going into the autumn series against the Springboks.
It is of course a quarter-of-a-century since another Irish lock, the legendary Willie John McBride (pictured) captained the Lions on his fifth tour of duty and returned from South Africa with the spoils; the only Irishman to achieve that distinction.
Antrim-born McBride, who favoured Brian O’Driscoll for the armband, played for the Lions in a record 17 matches. The ’74 campaign was brutal, as the tourists collected three wins and a draw against all odds, and at a time when they faced an international backlash for overlooking the hosts’ apartheid regime.
Peaceful off the pitch, Willie John shirked the apartheid controversy by stating that as an Irishman, he had enough political problems of his own at home.
Deploying a “retaliate first” approach, McBride’s men used the ‘99′ call – a codeword to crease the nearest opponent – and in en era where television cameras and video officials were as few and far between as black politicians the visitors got away with mischief if not quite murder.
There was an alleged incident during the tour where a one-eyed player for the Orange Free state was dominating the line-out. McBride decided that the best way to get rid of yer man was to close his other eye and ordered one of his team-mates to punch him at his earliest convenience. Blind justice, eh – and not a Clive Woodward-style media/PR post-mortem in sight.