Paul O’Connell has already got two tours and six Tests with the British & Irish Lions uner his belt, but he admits he will be a bag of nerves this week as selection for the opening Test against the Qantas Wallabies gets closer.
Just like everyone else in the tour party the Munster and Ireland legend is desperate to become a Test Lion once again. Having lost on his first five outings he finally tasted success as captain of the 2009 side in the third Test in Johannesburg.
That is a feeling he wants to replicate over the next three weekends as he tries to fill in the final blank in his career – a series win with the Lions.
“Unfortunately for me the nerves art getting worse and worse! It’s easier when you’re young and you don’t have a whole lot of responsibility – nerves are part of it and it makes you prepare and get as ready as you can,” said O’Connell in the wake of the Lions 47-17 win over the Waratahs..
“I was on the tour in 2005 and to this day it’s still probably the toughest rugby experience of my life. I had this big expectation of what a Lions Tour was going to be and, unfortunately, I didn’t play well.
“A lot of us didn’t play well and it was a very tough place to be after the tour. In 2009 it was a little different but, at the same time, it was a missed opportunity.
“For a lot of guys it’s like the World Cup – it’s your shot at forever, that kind of thing. If you can play well and produce a big performance who knows what can happen.
“I loved the last Test four years ago, the feeling and buzz we got after the win. Hopefully, we can produce something like that over the coming weeks.”
Saturday saw O’Connell stake his claim for Test selection alongside his lock partner in South Africa, Alun Wyn Jones. Ahead of him he had another stalwart of four years ago, Adam Jones, while behind him he had Tom Croft and Jamie Heaslip.
It is possible, some might say likely, that that ‘Famous Five’ will form the core of the Lions pack in Brisbane for the first Test. Add in Mike Phillips, Brian O’Driscoll and, if fit, Jamie Roberts, and the experience of four years ago is set to shine through in the Class of 2013.
“Every tour has been different. The dressing-room is a lot quieter than on previous tours and there isn’t a hell of a lot of talk coming up to games,” explained O’Connell.
“There’s no bravado or talk – there’s just savage competition for places. Guys are just very eager to play as well as they can individually.
“If you look at the backline, and the way the backs have been playing, I think it’s certainly a step up from four years ago. Forward wise, I think we’ve performed really well as well.
“We’ve carried well, done well at the breakdown at times and it’s as good as any team I’ve been on. But you don’t really know until you get to the Tests.
“The record of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales against Australia over the last number of years isn't fantastic by any means. We’ve got a very tough three weeks ahead of us and we need to prepare to the best of our ability.
“I think we can both assume and guarantee that from a physicality and intensity point of view it's going to be a big step up from the Saturday night against the Waratahs. I think we’ve done everything we can, but there’s still more work to do.
“It’s still a big ask to be taking on a southern hemisphere team with only four or five weeks’ preparation. For the first time I’ve been on a Lions tour there has been a lot of talk about it might be close to 50-50 or even making us favourites.
“That’s something I find very difficult to comprehend because we’ve been together for only four or five weeks. It’s very difficult to become a team in that time.
“Australia have been playing together a long time under this coach and the big challenge for us is trying to get up to Test standard four weeks into playing with one another.”