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Battle hardened Lions against Rusty Boks ?

18th June 2009 By Munster Rugby

"We will be battle-hardened going in while there is maybe rustiness in the South African camp,"

"We will be battle-hardened going in while there is maybe rustiness in the South African camp,"

So says Lions backs coach Rob Howley who also acknowledged that they (Lions selectors) must have everything right with their team selection if they are to have any chance against these ‘rusty’ Boks on Saturday.

Howley it would appear has been appointed the Agony Aunt of the Lions management as he continues to bang on about the game against the Southern Kings that left them without James Hook and Euan Murray. "Losing James is a blow in that he can cover fly-half, centre and full-back," Howley said. "A player of that quality you’re going to miss."

Mind you it’s worth noting that Hook wasn’t even in the original Lions squad only joining as cover while Leigh Halfpenny recovered from injury !

Howley is spot on when he said, "There was a cynical mark on the match and a lot of off-the-ball incidents that were not picked up," but the incident that resulted in Hook’s injury was one of the less innocuous in that Hook slipped just before the contact thus taking the swinging arm on the head.

But one wonders why there wasn’t more intervention by the match officials who included the hugely respected Irishman Alain Rolland ? ""

One Irishman who, despite the physicality, will remember Tuesday’s game fondly for the rest of his life in Donncha O’Callaghan. Captain for the day, he led from the front and afterwards said, "Yes it was a hugely physical game. They were really up for it, no question at all about that. But I have to admire our discipline and how we handled ourselves. Things could have spilled over if we allowed ourselves get involved in stuff. But we didn’t. Credit to the boys for their performance and the professional way they conducted themselves."

Speaking about the run up to the team announcement, he said, "Geech told me that nothing had been sorted for Saturday and that he would like me to lead the side. I was totally taken aback. Couldn’t believe it.

"It’s one thing just to be selected for the Lions but captaining them is a huge huge honour. It meant so much to me. It will be the highlight of my rugby career."

McGeechan said, " I first came across Donncha in 2005. He has a sense of humour, creates a very positive environment but also takes rugby very very seriously. He has trained with a real commitment. Sometimes a player is right to lead and he is somebody who is natural in this group."

O’Callaghan, who has played at every international level since making his Schoolboy bow against England in March 1997 at Lansdowne Road, must be wishing that 2009 will never end after winning a Grand Slam with Ireland, Magners League title with Munster and now a Lions captain’s armband, but for the thirty year old there is unfinished business.

"The only blip was giving up our Heineken title. That was gut-wrenching. Really was. But it will make us all the more the determined next season.

"But it was a great year other than that. So it may sound greedy of me but it would be some way to end it if we were to win the Test series. That would be some achievement.

"The next thing of course is to get into the Test 22 and that wont be easy. I’m up against class players and there’s huge ambition here but fingers crossed.

All the things that O’Callaghan brings to the mix and that is so admired by the management teams of Munster, Ireland and the Lions had their reward earlier today when he was named in the Test 22 for the opener in Durban on Saturday.

Expect to see him make an appearance from the bench sooner rather than later on Saturday.

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