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Ex-Lions staff member recalls speech that made Paul O’Connell want to knock him out

Lions Paul O'Connell

Former British and Irish Lions head of communications Alastair Campbell has recalled the speech which resulted in Paul O’Connell wanting to knock him out.

Campbell, who worked under head coach Clive Woodward on the 2005 Lions tour, made a speech that angered several of the players after the All Blacks defeated the tourists by 18 points in the first test.

The former Lions member of staff was speaking about his speech on Will Greenwood’s podcast for Sky Sports and recalled just how angry he made some of the players involved in that tour.

Ireland lock O’Connell was one of those angered players, and he revealed in his autobiography The Battle just how much Campbell had annoyed him.

“On the training pitch the following morning, I was still thinking about Alastair’s few words and getting more and more p****d off,” O’Connell wrote.

“I decided what I was going to do when the session was over: find Alastair and knock him out.”

Campbell on his unpopular speech to the Lions squad.

O’Connell didn’t knock Campbell out in the end, but the former spokesman for British Prime Minister Tony Blair wasn’t a popular man among the squad after his speech.

Campbell gave his version of events to Greenwood, and described the disgruntled reactions of several Lions players after he questioned whether they were upset enough about the loss to New Zealand in the first test.

“I didn’t feel that they were really hurting like I thought they might be that they’d lost. It just felt very strange to me. [Woodward] went ‘I want you to talk to them, I want you to tell them that.’,” Campbell explained.

“I said ‘Clive, are you sure that’s a good idea?’ But you know what he’s like, once he gets fixed on something. I was quite worried about it, but I was working for Clive and he wanted me to do it.

“He basically said ‘some of the players have got a bit complacent and they’re not listening to me, they’re not listening to what I’m saying. I’ve got to think of something to shake them up’.”

‘Matt Dawson said I lost some of them from the word go.’

Campbell’s speech did have an effect on several members of the squad, although probably not in the way that he or Woodward would have liked.

“It was really interesting, the reaction. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Brian O’Driscoll and he was just doing this very gentle shake of the head. He was basically saying dial it down a bit,” Campbell said.

“I had prepared it quite carefully, I’d thought it through. But I could sense in the room that there were some who were genuinely engaging. But others, I remember Martin Corry was absolutely seething.

“Matt Dawson said I lost some of them from the word go because I started off by saying ‘compared to you guys I know nothing about rugby’.

“That may be true, but it was my way of saying ‘I’m coming at this from a totally different perspective, I hope I can give you an insight.'”

Campbell’s words failed to spur the Lions players on, as they fell to heavy defeats to the All Blacks in the second and third tests, losing the test series 3-0.

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