Johnno among HSBC Legends

Martin Johnson has been unveiled as one of the 15 HSBC Lions Legends at a special lunch in London in aid of the Lions Charitable Trust. [more]

Johnno among HSBC Legends

Martin Johnson has been unveiled as one of the 15 HSBC Lions Legends at a special lunch in London in aid of the Lions Charitable Trust.

Attending the event alongside 13 of his fellow legends, Martin spoke of his own personal delight at being named alongside so many of his childhood heroes. 

"I grew up watching the Welsh superstars of the 1970s," said Johnson.

"Players like Gareth Edwards, JPR Williams and Gerald Davies are all rugby gods to me and it is a thrill to spend time with them.

"The way they won in South Africa in 1974 with Willie John McBride was amazing."

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Johnson led the Lions twice, including on the victorious tour to South Africa in 1997. Unsurprisingly, the current England team manager looks back at the series victory over the Springboks with a great deal of pride.

As well as describing that tour as "the most enjoyable rugby experience of my life," Johnson admits that a series win with the Lions is so rare and so difficult that he rates it as tough a challenge as winning the World Cup with England in 2003.

"If you can win a Lions series you write your own history. It honestly is up there for me with winning the Rugby World Cup.

"To go to South Africa, where rugby is such a huge part of the country, is a fantastic experience. It is an extremely tough place to play – the fans are so knowledgeable that if you play badly they certainly let you know, but at the same time if you play well they do tell you.  I think its one of the best places in the world to play rugby."

Johnson’s first Lions tour was in 1993 but it was the victorious tour of 1997 that remains firmly in his heart.

"We had the best of both worlds. It was the first year of professionalism so everything was extremely well organised and we had great management and coaches, and yet we also had fun and enjoyed ourselves.

"That’s a really important element on a Lions Tour. Players must enjoy themselves. None of the players going to South Africa this year will ever tour there again with the Lions so they must make the most of the opportunity."

Lions supporters will be glad to know that Johnson believes there is quite a lot in common between the tour of ‘97 and the party that will be heading back out to South Africa later this month. He, like the rest of us, hopes the outcome will be exactly the same.

"There are quite a few similarities between the two tours. The South Africans are the Rugby World Cup holders, the Lions are returning to a country where they have been victorious on the previous tour, and there is a good balance of players with experience and youth on their side."

Asked on his opinion of the 2009 Tour, Johnson believes that, just like 12 years ago, head coach Ian McGeechan has picked the right blend of players.

"I am really pleased that Paul O’Connell is involved," added Johnson.

"This is his chance to do something special. He knows the score with being captain.

"I was only a successful Lions captain because of the players I had around me. Paul is lucky to have the likes of Phil Vickery and Brian O’Driscoll with him and all of them will just be desperate to win.

"I would rather go as a soldier and win than lose as a leader and I am sure they feel the same. The best thing Paul can do as a captain is to play well."

"If anyone can help the Lions to win once again in South Africa it’s Ian McGeechan. I cannot stress how difficult a challenge it is but he has picked well and there is a good mix of talented players and strong characters. I wish them all good luck."

Fellow HSBC Lions Legend Brian O’Driscoll, who is the only current player to be named in the XV said, "It is an absolute honour to be named in the HSBC Lions Legends, although I am a bit embarrassed when I see who else is included.

"It is very humbling to be named alongside the likes of Mike Gibson and Willie John McBride."

The HSBC Lions Legends XV

15. JPR Williams
14. Gerald Davies
13. Brian O’Driscoll
12. Mike Gibson
11. JJ Williams
10. Phil Bennett
9. Gareth Edwards

1. Fran Cotton
2. Keith Wood
3. Graham Price,
4. Willie John McBride
5. Martin Johnson
6. Richard Hill
7. Fergus Slattery
8. Mervyn Davies

HSBC is the Principal Partner of the British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa this summer.

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