Saturday 20 January 2018

O'Connell to lift Lions with coaching role

Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell on Saturday
Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell on Saturday
Simon Zebo tackled by Melbourne Rebels' Lachlan Mitchell
Conor George

Conor George

PAUL O'CONNELL is set to join the Lions' coaching staff in an unofficial capacity after it was confirmed he will be staying with the squad for the rest of the tour.

O'Connell is likely to take some control over the Lions line-out ahead of the second and third Tests and will continue to train with the squad although his career as a Lions player is now over.

He won't, as coach Warren Gatland admitted, be in New Zealand in four years' time but he can still play a big part in helping the Lions win a first series in 16 years.

"Having played such an important role in the first Test he was given the option of staying or going home and he wanted to stay with the squad," said Gatland. "He won't be around (playing) in four years' time. I know a lot of players that have been around for a while and haven't had a lot of success in the southern hemisphere. He's one of those who's desperate to do it.

"I feel really sorry for him. It's a big loss for him, a big loss for the team."

O'Connell's injury – a fractured arm – will galvanise the squad, according to Gatland.

"He's in great shape and he's played some of the best rugby I've seen him play in a long long time on this Tour. It's a real shame," said the coach.

O'Connell has been one of the players in the background who has been wielding influence and driving things and Gatland will be keen to have his input over the final two weeks.

"Paul's been around for such a long time that he's got the experience and wisdom to be able to have an input. I'm sure he'll be involved in some way," Gatland added.

The Australians, meanwhile, are hopeful that O'Connell's absence will benefit their chances of regaining parity in the series.

"Losing Paul O'Connell is a massive blow for the Lions," tighthead prop Ben Alexander stated. "He is a player I have a huge respect for.

"Our physio said before the last series of scrums that O'Connell had broken his arm, but he got up and packed down and shook hands after the game. They will miss that hardness. He is one of the greatest players I have ever played against."

Irish Independent

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