While not currently captaining his country, O’Connell was rewarded for the superb leadership job he has done with Munster, and was obviously regarded as a more suitable candidate than O’Driscoll, who led the Lions in New Zealand in 2005.
The surprise selections were 21-year-old center Keith Earls, who didn’t figure during Ireland’s Grand Slam campaign, and Munster veteran, Alan Quinlan, who has been in superb form for the province of late.
John Hayes, Marcus Horan, Gordon D’Arcy and Paddy Wallace were the only players who appeared in the recent Six Nations championship who failed to make the squad.
“To be selected for a second Lions tour is fantastic, and to be asked to captain the squad is a tremendous honor,” said 29-year-old O’Connell. “It’s not only a great honor for me, but an honor for Munster and Ireland.”
He added that taking on the reigning world champions in their own back yard would be a huge challenge, but he was confident that there was the necessary talent and attitude for success.
“Paul O’Connell has shown over his career that he’s a natural leader both on and off the field,” said head coach, Ian McGeechan. “He has the respect of his fellow players all over the world.”
With the Irish leading the way with a record 14 representatives – including eight from Munster – Wales have 13 players, England eight and Scotland just two.
The 10-match tour begins on May 30, and features three test matches against the Springboks on June 20, June 27 and July 4. The last time the Lions toured South Africa in 1997, they won the test series 2-1.
Backs: Rob Kearney, Luke Fitzgerald, Tommy Bowe, Brian O’Driscoll, Keith Earls, Ronan O’Gara, Tomas O’Leary
Forwards: Jerry Flannery, Donnacha O’Callaghan, Paul O’Connell (capt), Alan Quinlan, Stephen Ferris, David Wallace, Jamie Heaslip.