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.
“It’s up to Sean and Leinster whether he plays, but he’s a lot better than first thought,” Rowntree said.
“Back row is Sean’s best position – he can play in all three positions. He’ll be a good impact player and is an exceptional talent.”