Rowntree heaps praise on O'Connell
Published 24/06/2013 | 22:47
Paul O'Connell has been hailed as "one of the best" after injury effectively ended his British and Irish Lions career in a cruel and premature fashion.
O'Connell, who will be 37 when the Lions tour New Zealand in 2017, broke his arm during Saturday's thrilling first Test victory over Australia at Suncorp Stadium.
While he will not play again Down Under, Ireland lock O'Connell could stay on in a supporting role. He attended Monday's final training session before the Lions tackle Melbourne Rebels on Tuesday. "He is one of the best, and he's in the form of his life as well," Lions assistant coach and forwards specialist Graham Rowntree said.
"He came into selection quite late because he had been out for so long with injuries during the season. Suddenly, he came back on the radar after that game (for Munster) against Harlequins in the European Cup. He was fit. In fact, I don't think he's ever been fitter.
"But you have got to get on with these things, which is why we brought so many players. Whether he is going to stay I am not sure yet. I would like him to because of the influence he has around the group. We will find out in the next four or five days what he is going to do. Losing someone like Paul galvanises a squad like us. We are a very tight group."
Asked if there was a case of siege mentality, Rowntree replied: "Yes".
England lock Geoff Parling, who had been due to captain the Lions on Tuesday, has been withdrawn from that game and should line up as Alun-Wyn Jones' Test second-row partner at Etihad Stadium next weekend.
"I am not going to try and lie there," Rowntree added. "Geoff is our next lineout caller, he has been doing very well coming off the bench and has taken his chance when he has started for us as well. He has been exceptional for England, but Geoff is more than just a lineout forward. He's a very clever footballer, a good ball carrier, his work-rate involvement is very high and he is getting better and better, but he has got to be in a squad like this one."
While Rowntree positively gushed about O'Connell, he was less responsive on the decision not to hand Australia captain James Horwill a ban. Horwill was cited for allegedly stamping on Jones early in the first Test. Television replays showed his boot making contact with the Welshman's face.
Lions chiefs referred the incident to the match citing officer, but Horwill was cleared following a disciplinary hearing in Melbourne on Sunday. "It has happened, we move on," Rowntree added. "What can you say? You can't change anything, we just have to get on with it."