Schmidt turns to O'Connell
Munster legend in line for Irish armband after Lions heartache
PAUL O'CONNELL's battle to overcome his latest injury setback begins today, with the prospect of becoming Ireland captain the major incentive for the Munster man.
Joe Schmidt has yet to announce who will lead his team when he takes charge of the November internationals, but the indications are that the iconic Munster second-row will take over from Jamie Heaslip for the clashes with Samoa, Australia and New Zealand.
It is highly likely that the curtain came down on the 33-year-old's Lions career when the tourists confirmed that their 2009 captain had suffered an undisplaced fracture of his right arm during the first-Test win over the Wallabies on Saturday.
However his Ireland career is unlikely to be affected by the latest injury, with O'Connell likely to be fit for pre-season and, as long as there are no further issues, he looks set to lead his country out against the Samoans on November 9 on what will be his first appearance in green since March 4, 2012.
The 33-year-old was injured when Declan Kidney took the decision to replace Brian O'Driscoll with Heaslip as skipper, but having never been given the honour of being named as Ireland captain – despite covering for an injured O'Driscoll 11 times – it is felt that his time has finally come.
Meanwhile, England World Cup winner and former Lion Austin Healey described O'Connell's loss to the tourists as "massive". The Munster man is contemplating whether to stay in Australia or come home after learning that his tour is over and the former Leicester scrum-half believes his absence will be a major boost for the Wallabies.
"He'll be missed massively. You will see that in press conferences the Lions will try and bat it off but the reality is that if you lose a player of that quality and of that persona, any Test series will be difficult, especially with two to go," he said in Dublin yesterday.
"He is the closest thing you guys have ever had to a Martin Johnson. Martin was hardly Churchillian in his speeches, but he rarely needed to say anything. It was just a look he would give you that almost inspired you.
"O'Connell is such a character within that squad and has been for a number of years. It is something the Australians can use to their benefit because often it is a little mental edge that can make all the difference."