If there was ever a player to know what it takes to win a Lions series, then you don’t have to look further than Paul O’Connell. The Munster, Ireland and Lions legend has certainly experienced the dizzying highs and the devastating lows when it comes to wearing that famous red jersey.
From being a part of that ill-fated 2005 Tour to New Zealand to then captaining the Lions on a 2009 Tour to South Africa which almost yielded triumph, to finally securing the holy grail that is a series win on the 2013 Tour to Australia – O’Connell has seen and experienced it all.
This year’s Tour to New Zealand is daunting, to say the least. Not only do they have the unenviable task of attempting to beat the greatest Test team in the world over three games but they also face a number of Kiwi Super Rugby sides who are incredibly dominant in this year’s competition.
For O’Connell, he told BBC Sport that the key for this Lions team to be successful is “becoming a team.”
“The big challenge is actually becoming a team – a group of people who want to play for each other. Because under pressure, those relationships are kind of the glue that hold the team together.”
We’ve heard this from a lot of players who have been on Lions Tours before and it is certainly something which Gatland and his coaching staff will have on their mind.
In fact, Lions prop, Jack McGrath, told Pundit Arena this week that he believes team comaraderie will come naturally due to the highly motivated nature of the players.
O’Connell also believes that how the players react to defeat will also be a key factor in whether they the Tour will be a success or not.
“Winning certainly helps that team spirit! So hopefully they will get off the ground early and get some good results. A bit of hardship as well, I certainly don’t think they’ll win their whole way to the Test match but the ups and downs of losing a game and having to bounce back will be good for the squad.”
The Lions face the Auckland Blues, the Crusaders, the Highlanders, the Maori All Blacks and the Chiefs before the first Test – so it is unlikely the Lions will have a 100% record going into that match.
As O’Connell says, what will be important is how the squad react to any potential defeats and whether lessons can be learned and applied in time for the first Test.
You can watch the full interview with O’Connell, here.