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21st Apr 2021

Sam Warburton feels Paul O’Connell would be “great addition” to Lions coaching group

Patrick McCarry

Paul O'Connell

“I think he’d be a great addition on tour.”

Paul O’Connell effectively switched from player to coach on the 2013 tour. He could easily slot in again.

The only thing missing, as Sam Warburton fielded questions with aplomb and managed to keep all four nations in his considerations, was a collar on his snazzy, new Lions jersey.

The 2013 and 2017 Lions captain worked closely with O’Connell on his first tour, when both played against Australia, and leant on him for support and advice. When O’Connell broke his arm in the First Test win over the Wallabies, he accepted Warren Gatland’s request to stay on with the squad.

At a press briefing for the official launch of the Lions 2021 tour training gear and jersey, Warburton was enthused at the notion of O’Connell – now forwards coach with Ireland – coming in to do a job with Gatland’s new coaching set-up.

The Kiwi said, last week, that he would look to add another name, possibly two, to the grouping of himself, Steve Tandy, Gregor Townsend, Robin McBryde and Neil Jenkins.

O’Connell would be a welcome addition, and has impressed in his short time with Ireland, but there could yet be a summer tour to the Pacific Islands [if that one somehow gets the all-clear].

“I thought that, putting two and two together,” said Warburton. “It makes you wonder whether he’ll complete his duties with Ireland and then he’ll come on as a line-out coach, or as a forwards coach for the second half of the tour

“To have Paulie around the group would be amazing. Even if he didn’t coach, just to have around the group and have his presence there.

“People think he’s like a brand new coach. He’s done a lot, Munster academy, Stade Francais in France so he’s been involved in three different environments already. This will be his fourth environment.”

Paul O’Connell in action for the Lions against NSW Waratahs in 2013. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

“He’s probably not as new and a novice as people think,” Warburton noted. “And, say Paulie, for the second half of his career at least, he would have been pretty much the line-out coach as a player.

“All your top line-out callers, say on the last tour it was George Kruis, he was almost our line-out coach alongside Steve Borthwick. They’d consult with each, they’d go through the moves and then he portrays it to the players.

“So Paul O’Connell’s been in that coaching role, even though it’s formally for maybe only a few years, he’s probably been doing that coaching role for like 10 years. He’s a very experienced line-out operator so I think he’d be a great addition on tour.”

The impending Lions squad announcement has been a hot topic of conversation on House of Rugby, these past few weeks.

On the latest House of Rugby Ireland episode [LISTEN from 23:00 below] Springboks legend Tendai Mtawawira and former Ireland tighthead Mike Ross discussed the front row forwards the Lions and South Africa may select for the Test Series.

Warburton was asked if Johnny Sexton’s recent Head Injury Assessments, and the fact that he is sitting out Leinster’s upcoming game against Munster, would harm his hopes of making a third Lions Tour.

“I think he’ll go on tour,” he replied, “because he would be invaluable to have, but they will have to judge what he’s like out there.

“Hopefully his body can withstand it, but if he’s picking up niggles out there, it’s going to be very difficult for him to be a Test starter.”

The Rainbow Cup – albeit without the South Africa sides – Premiership, Top 14, Challenge and Champions Cup may yet throw up a couple of surprise names, yet, but Gatland is likely to have settled on 90% of his squad by now.

Sam Warburton was speaking as Canterbury launched the British & Irish Lions Test Jersey. Get yours from


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