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Timely return

Sky Sports rugby union writer Tony Curtis assesses Paul O'Connell's superb return to form ahead of this summer's Lions tour

By Tony Curtis - Follow me on Twitter @SkysportsTC.   Last Updated: 08/04/13 3:53pm

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Stood on the Twickenham Stoop pitch with his arm aloft, the talisman that is Paul O'Connell was back.

If ever there was a case of a player securing his place in the British and Irish Lions squad on the basis of one 80-minute display then this was it.

During the numerous discussions over who should be part of Warren Gatland's squad to take on Australia in the summer, O'Connell's name was a notable absentee from many people's predictions.

Richie Gray, Geoff Parling, Alun-Wyn Jones, Joe Launchbury, Donnacha Ryan, Luke Charteris and Jim Hamilton were among the many names bandied about - with few mentioning the 2009 skipper.

It was perhaps understandable, though, given O'Connell's horrendous run of injuries.

A knee problem had sidelined the Munsterman for seven months and although he returned in October, a bulging disc in his back appeared to have ended his hopes of making the tour.

The injury - and the subsequent surgery to repair the damage - meant O'Connell missed the autumn internationals and RBS Six Nations.

A comeback was pencilled in for April - but surely that would not be enough time for the 33-year-old to prove himself a serious contender.

However Gatland had made it clear that he would give those players that had been struggling with injuries the opportunity to prove themselves during the knockout stages of the European competitions.


And there is no doubt that O'Connell took that chance with the sort of display which saw him lead the side four years ago in South Africa.

Few had expected Munster to beat Harlequins at the Stoop, but the men in red are a different proposition when O'Connell is in the side.

He brought passion and intensity to the side and crucially others followed his lead. He was at the heart of everything good about Munster's play.

He carried the ball with drive and purpose, he hauled them over the gainline and he was able to disrupt the Quins lineout to deny them a platform to get back into the match.

However the measure of the man is that while Quins boss Conor O'Shea described him as "arguably one of the greatest second rows Ireland has ever produced" and Munster coach Rod Penney hailed him as a "complete man", O'Connell diverted all the praise back onto the players.

O'Connell now has a handful of games left to further state his claim - including a Heineken Cup semi-final away to Clermont - before Gatland reveals his selections on April 30. But surely the question is not whether O'Connell can be one of the five locks to travel Down Under, but who are the other four to travel with him?

You can watch all 10 of the British and Irish Lions' matches during their tour to Australia live on Sky Sports

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