The Daily Mail today published an interview between Clive Woodward and current England head coach Eddie Jones.
The interview covered a number of subjects - Jones's first year in charge, Dylan Hartley, how to beat the All Blacks and also the upcoming Lions tour off New Zealand.
Woodward has plenty of insight into what it's like to be on both sides of the Lions fence. He was Lions head coach in 2005 but also England head coach when the amalgamated team toured Australia in 2001.
In a Q&A style interview, Woodward put it to Jones that players from Celtic nations - Ireland, Scotland, Wales - believe that the Lions is bigger than playing for their country and that this wholly accounts for their poor record against southern hemisphere teams. He adds that this is a characteristic he never saw in English players.
Curiously, as an example, he cites Paul O'Connell as one of those who believes that playing for the Lions is bigger than playing for your country.
Eddie, the Celts put a huge emphasis on the Lions, their big past-players are Lions legends, that’s almost how they made their names. I read an article recently quoting Paul O’Connell, who I have huge respect for, saying that the Lions is bigger than playing for Ireland. I disagree. I played for the Lions and I never saw it as bigger than playing for England. I believe this is the sole reason the Celtic nations have such poor records against the Southern Hemisphere. I don’t think England players think like that. Do you detect a pecking order from the guys?
The interview to which Woodward refers appears to be one with The Telegraph's Paul Hayward, conducted around the release of O'Connell's book.
It's fair to say that Woodward has stretched what O'Connell meant in what seems like a throwaway comment. While talking about the scheduling of this summer's Lions tour, O'Connell calls the Lions 'the ultimate' and adds that he loved playing for them. He does not elaborate on this any further.
The Six Nations will pay a price next season, club owners will pay a price. Guys will be worn out and injured. To me as a player, the Lions was the ultimate. I loved it. And I just think it should be looked after a little better in the calendar.
I think they’re playing their first game six days after the end of the domestic season. I’m tempted to say – what chance do they have? What chance do they have to spend a bit of time together to become a team, which is really, really important.
Woodward's interpretation that the Lions meant more to O'Connell than playing for Ireland is tough to fathom for an Irish fan. Maybe that is because it can't be true. Few gave more to green jersey than O'Connell.
An alternative interpretation of O'Connell describing the Lions as 'the ultimate' would be him feeling it to be another level of recognition to be named as one of the best players from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.