British and Irish Lions 2013: Paul O'Connell describes competition for places as 'savage'

The first Test against Australia takes place this weekend

Paul O'Connell believes there is "savage competition" for places in the British and Irish Lions squad as the countdown continues towards next Saturday's first Test against Australia.

The Lions head to Canberra today for an appointment with the Brumbies, which will be their final game before tackling Robbie Deans' Wallabies.

Ireland lock O'Connell, who is on his third Lions tour, is widely expected to forge the Test second-row partnership alongside Welshman Alun-Wyn Jones.

But the 33-year-old is taking nothing for granted ahead of what should be his seventh Test match appearance in Lions colours.

"Every tour has been different," said O'Connell, who was part of the 2005 squad whitewashed by New Zealand and then captained the Lions in South Africa four years ago

"The dressing-room is a lot quieter than on previous tours. There isn't a hell of a lot of talk coming up to games. There is no bravado or talk.

"There is savage competition for places, and guys are very eager to play as well as they can individually.

"I think if you look at the back-line and the way the backs have been playing it's certainly a step up. Forwards-wise, I think we've performed really well as well.

"We've carried well, done well at the breakdown at times and it's as good as any team I've been on, but you don't really know until you get to the Tests.

"I was on the tour in 2005, and to this day it's still probably the toughest rugby experience of my life.

"I had this big expectation of what a Lions Tour was going to be. Unfortunately, I didn't play well. A lot of us didn't play well, and it was a very tough place to be after the tour.

"2009 was a little different, but at the same time it was a missed opportunity. For a lot of guys it's like the World Cup. It's your shot at forever, that kind of thing."

The Lions will chase a sixth successive tour win tomorrow, having so far amassed 261 points and 33 tries Down Under. It is form that has seen them installed as Test series favourites by many pundits.

But O'Connell knows Australia will be fierce opponents, adding: "We've a very tough three weeks ahead of us.

"Australia are a really good side, they have a lot of incredibly talented players and the next three weeks will be really tough and will be a lot different to what we've experienced (so far) in terms of intensity and physicality.

"It will be a big step up for us."

PA

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