When the iconic and inspirational Munster, Ireland and British & Irish Lions lock forward and captain Paul O’Connell speaks rugby, you listen.
Well, O’Connell, captain of the Lions in South Africa in 2009, has detailed just what he thinks of the Springboks and of Warren Gatland’s approach. He also admits he was surprised by a Lions squad, he labelled ‘strange’.
O’Connell believes Gatland will use the Welsh strategic approach of 2018 and 2019 to try and beat the world champion Springboks.
O’Connell no doubt expected more Irish players in the squad but he acknowledged this was a squad of players chosen more to combat the Springboks style of play than necessarily reward a particular strength of the Lions.
‘Rassie has a formula that he sticks to – it generally revolves territory and not so much possession. The less possession he has, the better for him.
‘Lineout, maul, scrum – he wants fewer rucks than the opposition, he wants to make more tackles than the opposition. He wants a really long kicking game, I don’t think he’s going to move away from that, particularly when you look at the success they had in the World Cup.
‘[Gatland] is trying to pick a team to prepare for that, and they nearly got all of those things right when Wales played them in the World Cup semi-final. I think the only one they might have lost is that Rassie is big into turnovers conceded, I think Wales might have lost that one,’ O’Connell told Wednesday Night Rugby. ‘
‘It is about trying to play his own game but trying to stop what South Africa are doing as well. It’s going to be tricky.
‘One of the things that you look at when you look at the squad is that there are a few strange selections.’
O’Connell is a big fan of Erasmus and has always been complimentary of the work Erasmus did to rebuild Munster in his 18 month stint as Director of Rugby and coach of Munster.
He has a healthy respect for Erasmus, the Springboks and for touring South Africa, and he cautioned against the dangers (for the Lions) of a third of the squad not being involved in matches in the final three weeks.
It is a real danger, he said.
‘It is going to be a very tough tour, the way they are going to be in a bit of quarantine and not really outside the hotel. I only noticed a few days ago that there are no midweek games in the last four weeks of the tour.
‘So there are going to be a lot of players that might be playing a game on July 14th and the last game is on August 7th. They might not be involved again. That is a tough station.
‘As happy as some of the tours that I’ve been on have been, some guys haven’t coped well with not being picked. And the guys that are going are the ones that are used to being picked their whole lives, they are used to being first-choice.’
O’Connell added that these players were familiar with always making the team and that was going to make the last few weeks particularly tough.
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