British & Irish Lions
O'Connell going back to basics
June 5, 2009
Paul O'Connell is expecting his side to keep their composure this weekend © Getty Images
British & Irish Lions skipper Paul O'Connell has stressed the need for his side to keep their composure as they take on the Free State Cheetahs this weekend - and to not let their thumping 74-10 win over the Golden Lions go to their heads as they continue to build towards the Test series against the Springboks.
The Cheetahs finished bottom of the table in this season's Super 14, but remain a dangerous proposition and have won three Currie Cups in the past four seasons.
"What happened on Wednesday night will be great for the tour," he said. "We did the simple things very well, and the off-loads came because of that. It gives the tour a bit of momentum and maybe makes people sit up and take notice.
"One of the first things (assistant coach) Shaun Edwards said on Thursday morning was that we don't go out and try to play razzle-dazzle rugby or anything like that. A lot of what happened on Wednesday was from doing the simple things well. The off-loads came from quick ball, and that is what we have got to do on Saturday, first and foremost. It is about keeping our composure and making sure we play to win first. Whatever happens after that, happens."
The Lions will likely be handing first starts on tour to a good number of the squad, with Wales wing Leigh Halfpenny, Ireland wing Luke Fitzgerald, lock Donncha O'Callaghan, No.8 Andy Powell, flanker Stephen Ferris and fly-half James Hook all set to don the red jersey.
There may also be some action for Ireland centre Gordon D'Arcy, who arrived this week from a holiday with friends in San Francisco. England centre Riki Flutey is still sidelined by injury so D'Arcy could get a run out a week after scoring for the Barbarians against England at Twickenham.
"It's great to have such competition for places," said O'Connell. "I've seen that with Ireland and Munster - when there is competition for places, the general standard of what everyone is doing is raised. We are still only two games into the tour. For a lot of us, there are new attacking and defensive systems, so we are still at the stage where we have to focus on ourselves, by and large.
"The more we play with each other, the more familiar we become. Things like the breakdown, scrum and lineout will hopefully just get better and better. Donncha is raring to go, and it's the same with Stephen Ferris, who hasn't started a game yet. These guys should give everyone a big lift, getting a first start.
"The best thing that can happen for morale is winning games. It's been really good and enjoyable."
O'Connell, a tourist with the Lions on the disastrous 2005 tour of New Zealand, believes that the squad are benefiting from the more personal nature of the training and the smaller numbers on tour.
"2005 was a tough tour, mainly because towards the end we had been losing. At the start, it was good," he said. "I suppose the big thing here is the smaller group - a smaller group of coaches and players. I suppose it is something that had to be tried in 2005 to realise it probably wasn't the best thing in the world to do. The fact the same coaches are coaching the same players day after day, I think it allows you to learn quicker."