British & Irish Lions guru Sir Ian McGeechan is petitioning for the inclusion of one of Ireland’s current coaching setup, but it’s not head coach Andy Farrell.
After apparently getting the green light from the IRFU, Farrell has been widely touted this week as a likely late inclusion in Warren Gatland’s touring party, even though some confusion still reigns as to whether he would go or not.
For Farrell to be included it would mean joining mid-tour and less than two weeks before the first Test against the Springboks.
Now McGeechan says that if you are to include an Ireland coach, it’s not Farrell but Paul O’Connell that Gatland should go for. O’Connell is a veteran of three tours and captained the side the last time they were in South Africa.
He has also been credited with the rapid improvement in Ireland’s lineout during the Guinness Six Nations, a speciality that McGeechan thinks could prove vital.
Writing in his Telegraph column, the Scot writes: “If there was one Ireland coach I would be looking at bringing in, it would not be Farrell. It would be Paul O’Connell.
“The lineout is the one area in which the Lions have no specialist coach and O’Connell is a master operator. We saw in the most recent Six Nations the impact he has already had on Ireland’s lineout. And while the Lions have very experienced operators in Alun Wyn Jones and Maro Itoje, and while Robin McBryde can do a job, there is no doubt in my mind that O’Connell would add a huge amount.
“Paul knows what the Lions are all about. He has been on three tours as a player, was a wonderful captain in 2009 and if there was one coach I’d look to parachute in mid-tour it would be him.”
Of course, O’Connell’s inclusion would face the same logistic difficulties that Farrell’s would, unless he was granted special release by the IRFU prior to Ireland’s matches with the USA and Japan.
The former second row’s CV speaks for itself. Capped 108 times by Ireland, O’Connell captained the team to Six Nations success in 2014. O’Connell’s distinguished playing career also included seven Test match appearances for the British & Ireland Lions across three tours and two Heineken Cup titles with Munster. Since retiring from playing in 2015, he has held coaching positions with the Munster Academy, Ireland U20s and Top 14 side Stade Francais.
CV aside, upgrading the Lions lineout mid-tour seems far-fetched, even for an operator of O’Connell’s pedigree. One would have to imagine O’Connell would have to take some sort of secondment from Ireland duty and join Gatland’s men at ground zero at their training base on Jersey.
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