"Maybe we stopped putting as many numbers to the breakdown as we were. You can get very technical about the breakdown but you need numbers there, you need to be low and aggressive and get beyond the ball - we didn't do that all the time," he said.
"The Cheetahs were very good there and stunted a lot of what we were doing. We were playing phase after phase and they turned over the ball quite well.
"Some of the decisions at the breakdown were a bit strange. It is important for us and something we will have to work at because the South Africans are very good in that area.
"When we held onto the ball we looked quite good, but turn overs can kill you, take momentum out of your game and give the other team belief, which they did.
"We started off very well against the Cheetahs but, after Wednesdays game, maybe people though it was going to be more of the same. But after that they were stung and played very well.
"I am disappointed for the guys because beforehand we had a great buzz. They were very enthusiastic to play hard and play well for each other.
"For nine of the players it was their first game for a long time, so to get away with the win, even though it wasn't a fabulous performance, is a good thing.
"The scrum went well. We just need to bring the good buzz from training onto the pitch for the full 80 minutes."
The breakdown also dominated the thoughts of two other Lions forwards, O'Connell's Irish team mates Stephen Ferris and Donncha O'Callaghan.
"It was very weird and difficult at the breakdown and something you don't experience in the Magners League that I play in week in, week out," said Ferris.
"There seemed to be two men on the ball all the time. The way it is being refereed now is that the first man is able to compete and the second man in isn't supposed to be in there. "Every time they seemed to have two or three players in there and it was very hard for the referee to ref and for us to play. The game was very stop start and we couldn't get any momentum.
"In the first 20 minutes when we scored those points we put a couple of phases and nice moves together, but we just couldn't maintain that momentum. No doubt the Sharks will watch this video and look at our weak points to find out where they can attack us.
"But we will be working very hard on the breakdown this week and making sure that doesn't happen.
"It is three out of three now and everyone is starting to learn the style Ian McGeechan wants us to play. We will take this win into Wednesday and get ourselves another one."
It was O'Callaghan's first game on tour and he was delighted to have got a start. But he, too, was puzzled by some of the work of the Cheetahs in the contact area.
"Their No 6, Heinrich Brussow, was very good. He would make a tackle, get back onto his feet and then go looking for the ball," he said.
"It is something we are going to have to get better at ourselves. With the game we are trying to play we are going to have to arrive at the breakdown and make a real impact."