The three-time tourist and 2009 captain saw his tour come to a premature end last Saturday when he fractured an arm during the first-Test victory over the Wallabies in Brisbane.
Yet the 33-year-old Munster and Ireland lock’s seniority, experience and gravitas in the game is seen as vital to the Lions’ cause, head coach Warren Gatland suggested following a 35-0 tour win over the Melbourne Rebels.
“We gave him the option to stay on,” Gatland said. “I don’t think he’ll be here in four years’ time and having played such an important role in the first Test, he was given the option of staying or going home and he wanted to stay with the squad. It will be fantastic if we can win the series.
“I know a lot of players that have been around for a while and hadn’t had a lot of success in the southern hemisphere. He’s one of those who’s desperate to do it.”
For Gatland, the absence of O’Connell from his Test side over the next two weekends is a massive blow as he felt the Irishman was playing some of the finest rugby of his career.
“I feel really sorry for him. It’s a big loss for him, a big loss for the team. I think he’s played some of the best rugby I’ve seen him play in a long, long time. He’s in great shape. The combination of him and Alun Wyn Jones was proving really strong. He’s been around for such a long time that he’s got the experience and wisdom to be able to have an input. I’m sure he’ll be involved in some aspect.”