Ronan O’Gara has paid tribute to Paul O’Connell’s greatness as captain, recalling his reaction to the Lions’ heartbreaking loss to South Africa in 2009.
O’Connell had been chosen as the British and Irish Lions’ captain for the test series in 2009, one of just many great feats the Munster man achieved in his professional rugby career.
O’Gara played an unfortunate role in the second test match between the Lions and South Africa however, giving away a late penalty that handed the Springboks the win in both that match and the test series as a whole.
The former fly-half recalled his captain’s reaction to the late penalty in a tribute published in the Irish Examiner, explaining that O’Connell immediately went to comfort him after the game.
“In Pretoria, he had the opportunity for immortality as captain of the Lions. But in that second test, I destroyed that dream for him, giving away the winning Boks penalty which Morne Steyn kicked from 53 metres,” O’Gara explained.
“Paul was captain, it could have been his biggest achievement in the game. Coming off the field, he had the respect and decency, the greatness, to put his arm around someone who just wanted his world to end right there.
“He was thinking of me when anyone else could have said ‘what were you doing there?'”
‘I’ve had the privilege for 15 years’
O’Gara was not the only man to appreciate O’Connell’s captaincy on that Lions tour, with Wales legend Martyn Williams admitted that he had played under no finer captain than the Irishman.
“On the flight home from that tour, one thought kept rebounding, something Marty Williams of Wales said to me. I’d have huge respect for Williams, a man who has achieved plenty in the game,” O’Gara said.
“But the awe in which he held Paulie was remarkable. For him to say O’Connell was the best captain he’s played under said plenty. And that was after just six weeks. I’ve had the privilege for 15 years.”
The two last played with each other in Munster’s Heineken Cup semi-final loss to Clermont Auvergne in 2013, having first played together for Munster back in 2001.
(Originally published on March 5, 2021).