Donnacha O’Callaghan looks back on the previous Lions tour of New Zealand.
The 2005 Lions tour of New Zealand will be remembered for many reasons such as the spear tackle that ended captain Brian O’Driscoll’s tour, Dan Carter’s brilliance or Clive Woodward’s decision to split the squad in two.
Woodward felt the best way to defeat the All-Blacks was to have a test squad and mid week squad. New Zealand’s white wash of the touring party quashed that thought.
On man that toured was Munster’s Donnacha O’Callaghan who incidentally would be part of both squads during the tour. Speaking to The Telegraph, O’Callaghan remembers watching the squad announcement with little hopes of being named.
“I watched the team announcement on Sky and didn’t think I was getting in. When my name came up I leapt around the house. When I stopped I was in the back garden. It was brilliant, special. I went off to training that day and by the time I came back my house was hopping. There was a party going on.”
Initially included in the midweek squad, Donnacha O’Callaghan reflects on the relaxed nature of his squad in comparison to those preparing to face the AB’s.
“We called ourselves the Midweek Massive. We had a hand sign we could make, going “MWM”. Any time the Midweek Massive were on a flight there was cries going out: “If we crash would anyone care?” Or, “Does Clive know we’re even here?” There was a kind of chip on the shoulder but I actually think the management of that squad did a great job.
“I definitely felt they left us to express ourselves as opposed to the Test squad, who were being maybe dictated to. Being involved in the midweek team was so good, it was such a brilliant environment and that had an awful lot to do with Gareth Jenkins and Ian McGeechan, who ran those teams. I think they got the vibe right.
“We were in the South Island and the lads were preparing for the first Test in the North Island, and we had people coming out to watch a session and they were saying to us: “Where’s Jonny, where’s Drico, where’s Paulie, Will Greenwood?” And we’re going: “We don’t know either!”
The Munster man was called into the test squad in preparation for the second test. Instantly he felt the mood change as the players failed to cope with the pressure and demands placed on them.
“I got called into the Test squad and I couldn’t believe how little fun there was in any part of the training sessions. I remember we were warming up and I was joking around and Paulie [O’Connell] gave me a rap on the knuckles, saying: “We are preparing for a Test match here, Donners.” I was there going: “It’s Monday, Paulie.” I think it was a pressure cooker for some lads from minute one and that led to them probably not enjoying the tour as much as some of the other guys did. I absolutely loved it!”
O’Callaghan does not blame Woodward for his decision to split the squad as the former Munster and current Worcester player acknowledges that the English coach was probably ahead of his time,
“I think maybe Clive was a little bit ahead of himself. I think what he did was right, but I think he was nearly too professional for that time.”
Since that tour, camaraderie has become a key part of Lions tours as players are allowed to form friendships in the hope of it yielding on field success. Hopefully, this year’s tour of New Zealand will be more profitable than during O’Callaghan’s time.