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O'Connell will inspire the new stars: Rowntree


Paul O'Connell is backed to have a big impact

Paul O'Connell is backed to have a big impact

INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Paul O'Connell is backed to have a big impact

British and Irish Lions forwards coach Graham Rowntree expects Sam Warburton to be galvanised by the presence of "proven warrior" Paul O'Connell on the tour to Australia.

Warburton has succeeded O'Connell as Lions captain, at the age of 24 becoming the youngest player to fill the post for 58 years.

The Wales openside has been described as "wise beyond his years" by his predecessor and Rowntree believes that in O'Connell he has a team-mate of the highest calibre.

"Paul is a class player. I've played with him and coached him. He's what I would call a proven warrior at the highest end of the game," he said.

"A Lions series is the highest end of the game. He's been out for a while with injury but his recent performances put him right in the reckoning for selection. He's playing well, is a big man, has experience and is very good at giving to other players. He's spoken highly of Sam and will help him."

The highest-profile omission from the Lions squad was England captain Chris Robshaw, but the Harlequins openside could yet play a role in Australia should injury strike in the back row.

"We have a group of players in our own minds who we'd like to call up in the event of injury, but there's nothing set in stone. It depends on form, fitness, who is available," said Rowntree.

"But what we have said to those guys, people like Chris Robshaw, is that if people don't go on their national tours like Chris to Argentina with England, then that will not take them out of the reckoning for selection."

Flanker Sean O'Brien could yet play for Leinster in Saturday's RaboDirect PRO12 final after making rapid progress in his recovery from a knee injury.

O'Brien was expected to be out for two weeks after incurring bone bruising in last weekend's Amlin Challenge Cup final victory over Stade Francais. But the injury is not as bad as initially feared and the 26-year-old Ireland back row could be in contention for selection against Ulster at the RDS.

Meanwhile, Mike Tindall is relishing the chance to test his experience against Gloucester's youth when he lines up for the Barbarians against England on Sunday.

The Gloucester player-coach is in the Baa-Baas invitational squad for a second successive year and is poised to be in direct midfield opposition to fly-half Freddie Burns and centres Billy Twelvetrees and Jonny May at Twickenham on Sunday.

"I would imagine Freddie, Jonny May and Billy will start. I know their games and they know mine, so it should be interesting," said Tindall.

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