Paul O’Connell likely to lead Lions if Sam Warburton is ruled out

Sergio Parisse captains Barbarians who are on a self-imposed alcohol ban for the week

Barbarians captain Sergio Parisse during a training session in Hong Kong for the game against the Lions on Saturday.  Photograph: Tyrone Siu/Reuters

Barbarians captain Sergio Parisse during a training session in Hong Kong for the game against the Lions on Saturday. Photograph: Tyrone Siu/Reuters


He may not be the tour captain this time around, but four years on from leading the 2009 Lions in South Africa, and five months on from ruling himself out of consideration for this tour, Paul O’Connell is the obvious candidate to lead the Lions in their opening game against the Barbarians if Sam Warburton is ruled out with a knee injury.

Having returned from a New Year’s Eve back operation to make a stunning return with Munster in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals and semi-finals, O’Connell not only forced his way into the Lions’ 37-man squad but, along with Brian O’Driscoll, re-emerged as a candidate to captain the Lions.

In the event, Warburton was bestowed with that honour but last seasons’ Grand Slam-winning captain, along with Welsh team-mates Gethin Jenkins and Dan Lydiate, all sat out training yesterday. According to Lions assistant coach Rob Howley: “Warby’s taken a slight bump to his knee in training.”

The time-honoured tradition of Lions tours would be that the captain leads them out in the first match, but the management would also be disinclined to take any unnecessary risks, in which case, O’Connell would be the obvious vice-captain pending this morning’s team announcement.

Similarly, four years ago, O’Driscoll captained the Lions in their second tour match, a 74-10 rout of the Golden Lions. In any event, such has been his impact in the two camps to date, O’Connell’s influence on this year’s tour is already assuming significance way beyond that of a mere soldier in the trenches.

More seriously
The Barbarians were always likely to take a once-in-a-lifetime meeting with the British and Irish Lions more seriously than a match against a second-string England, and so it has come to pass. All told, only four of last Sunday’s starting XV are retained, Wasps’ lock Marco Wentel, his uncapped clubmate Elliot Daly (who moves to fullback), the Biarritz/USA Eagles flyer Takudzwa Ngwenya and Munster’s Casey Laulala.

Captain Parisse
Italy’s Sergio Parisse, who replaces Imanol Harinordoquy, captains the side for Saturday’s game in Hong Kong Stadium (kick-off 7.30pm local time/12.30pm Irish), with Ulster’s Jared Payne, Joe Rokocoko, Harlequins’ Nick Evans, Dimitri Yachvili, Paul James, Schalk Brits, Martin Castrogiovanni, Dean Mumm, Sam Jones and Northampton’s brilliant USA Eagles backrower Samu Manoa, possibly the best forward in the Premiership this season, amongst those called up.

“We are not going to shy away from the fact we all felt let down afterwards,” coach Dai Young said in reference to last week’s 40-12 defeat, when the Baa-baas were flattered by two tries in the final 10 minutes.

Hence, as well, the teetotal build-up to the game, although in the conditions there’s an element of self-preservation at work here. “The players have put a ban on themselves really,” explained team manager Derek Quinnell. “We went out last night for an hour with Carlsberg and I think they were under the impression that a few pints would be sunk, but about 90 per cent of the players were drinking Coke.”
BARBARIANS: J Payne (Ulster); J Rokocoko (Bayonne & New Zealand), E Daly (Wasps), C Laulala (Munster & New Zealand), T Ngwenya (Biarritz & USA); N Evans (Harlequins & New Zealand), D Yachvili (Biarritz & France); P James (Bath & Wales), S Brits (Saracens & South Africa), M Castrogiovanni (Leicester & Italy), M Wentzel (Wasps & South Africa), D Mumm (Exeter & Australia), S Manoa (Northampton & USA), S Jones (London Wasps), S Parisse (Stade Francais & Italy, capt). Replacements: L Ghiraldini (Benetton Treviso & Italy), D Jones (Ospreys & Wales), A Lo Cicero (Racing Metro & Italy), J Hamilton (Gloucester & Scotland), I Harinordoquy (Biarritz & France), K Fotuali’i (Ospreys & Samoa), J Hook (Perpignan & Wales), M Tindall (Gloucester & England).