The former Leicester Tigers and England utility back has considerable experience of the lengths the Australians have gone to in the past to turn the screw on the tourists given the war or words he shared with Wallaby lock Justin Harrison in 2001.
Healey famously described Harrison as a “plank” in a newspaper column after a long-running feud between the pair and his words were deemed to have backfired when the then Brumbies forward stole a last-gasp Lions lineout to seal the series win for the hosts 12 years ago.
Dubbed the ‘Leicester Lip’, Healey also spoke of the time two blond beauties turned up at his room and how sections of the local press made suggestions of lurid extracurricular activities in the Lions hotel even though they were promptly turfed out.
“When you are on a tour like that, if you think back 12 years, the opposition try to jump on something, whether it is a press article or an injury or Nathan Grey knocking out your best player (Richard Hill) in front of everyone and not getting sent off. O’Connell is such a character within that squad and has been for a number of years that it is something the Australians can use to their benefit because, often in these Test series, it is a little mental edge that can make all the difference.”
O’Connell will almost certainly be replaced by England’s Geoff Parling in the second row and, though the Leicester man has impressed on tour, his lineout skills will hardly make up for the loss of a player whose leadership skills are acclaimed around the rugby playing world.
“O’Connell is the closest thing you guys have ever had to a Martin Johnson. Martin was hardly Churchillian in his speeches, but he rarely needed to say anything. It was just a look he would give you that almost inspired you. You sense with O’Connell he is that kind of character.
“It is not ‘do as I say’, it is ‘do as I do’. He’ll be missed massively. The Lions will try and bat it off but the reality is that if you lose a player, (a) of that quality and, (b), of that persona any Test series will be difficult, especially with two to go.”
O’Connell’s loss aside, Healey has been surprised by the Lions’ failure to provide George North and Alex Cuthbert with more ball and believes Mike Phillips’s form has been ponderous but still believes the Lions will pull through to claim a first series win since South Africa in 1997.
Yet the value of that would be diluted judging by his observation that, compared to 2001, the Lions have faced few of the off-field assaults from the Aussie press and a prep list of fixtures against diluted Super Rugby opponents which have added little to the concept as a whole.
“I’m not sure whether Australia will see another full Lions tour again ... I would like to see the Lions go down the Pacific Rim and play Canada, the USA, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, the Pacific Islands and then maybe go to Australia and give them one Test match. If they are going to disrespect our traditions, they don’t get another tour.”