Paul O'Connell: 'I owe Test place to Munster'
O'Connell pays tribute to Reds team-mates as he prepares to go to war
Paul O'Connell has admitted he owes his place in the Lions team to face Australia in the first Test in Brisbane tomorrow to his Munster team-mates.
O'Connell ruled himself out of contention for the tour as far back as November 2012, when he initially suffered his back injury. He reiterated the sentiment in January after he underwent surgery on New Year's Eve to correct a bulging disc.
He maintains that he did so at the time to relieve the pressure of trying to regain fitness in time to be selected for the Lions' summer tour. Once he opted for surgery, there was always a serious doubt that he would get enough game-time to impress the Lions' selectors.
His performance in Munster's Heineken Cup quarter-final win over Harlequins in April was so magnificent that it was enough to secure his ticket to Australia.
"I was lucky that I had the chance to play in games the selectors were watching," said the talismanic second-row.
"That only happened because of Munster's performance against Racing Metro in their final Heineken Cup Pool game.
"Without that winning bonus point, we might not have made the quarter-finals," he added.
O'Connell is one of four Irish players in the Lions team for tomorrow's opening game against Australia at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium.
As expected Brian O'Driscoll plays at outside centre, Jonny Sexton at No 10 and Jamie Heaslip will guide the traffic at the base of the scrum from his customary No 8 position.
Head coach Warren Gatland's line-up has eight Lions Test debutants – Alex Corbisiero, Tom Youngs, skipper Sam Warburton, Leigh Halfpenny, Alex Cuthbert, Jonathan Davies, George North and Sexton – although only three of those are chosen up-front.
Gatland admitted that selection had been challenging, but used the Lions' impressive 47-17 victory over the Waratahs last Saturday as his template for the Test team by retaining 11 of that starting XV.
"We went through due process and there was a good discussion about the team. Obviously the make-up of the loose forwards was one, the make-up of the front-row was a big discussion and the make-up of the midfield too."
It came as a major surprise that there are no Irish players among the replacements. Sean O'Brien, Conor Murray and Simon Zebo have all impressed on Tour and must have been very close to selection.
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