Paul O’Connell Picks His Lions 2017 Second-Row
Former Lions captain Paul O’Connell has ruled out second-row partner Alun Wyn Jones forming the backbone of Warren Gatland’s pack in New Zealand next summer.
Jones has been tipped by many, given his experience but there’s no room for him in O’Connell’s starting line-up. Instead the 108-times capped legend is tipping Englishmen Maro Itoje and Joe Launchbury to form a deadly partnership in New Zealand.
Looking at the second-row selection battle for the Lions O’Connell told the Daily Mail:
“Itoje. He’s phenomenal. Absolutely phenomenal. He is the full package; a great player and an amazing athlete.
“He is already an amazing leader and he is probably playing at the best club in England when it comes to coaching.
“He has come into the England team at a time when they are going really, really well and being well coached.
“He is the new, modern second-row player. He’s like a tall No 8. He’s as good as the No 8 and has an incredible all-round game.
“As a second row back in the day, you had to be able to really handle yourself. There was a lot of foul play.
“Now there isn’t and it’s great that someone like him can just concentrate on being a great rugby player.
“I hope he remains injury-free, because that is the killer when you are such a good player. They all want you to play as much as possible and when you get injured, they want you back as quick as possible.
“Injuries can dull your ability, so I hope he can avoid them.”
And on Itoje’s second row partner to tackle the All Blacks, he added:
“At the moment I’d go for Itoje and Joe Launchbury.
“When I played against him two years ago, I thought Launchbury was phenomenal. He was brilliant over the ball, a really good carrier and a good lineout man.
“He showed a bit of leadership as well and he’s a big, heavy guy, so he is an asset in the scrum. I’d like to see Dev Toner in there somewhere too. I think he is a very under-rated guy, because he is so laid-back.”