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'I can never see the Lions disappearing. It’s an amazing thing'

Sean O’Brien is ready to lead the Lions’ charge in the third Test against the All Blacks.

Murray Kinsella reports from Auckland

THINGS GOT HEATED this week at Lions training and while they say no punches were thrown, it was no surprise to hear that one Irishman was in the thick of it.

“I was involved in it myself,” says Sean O’Brien, one of the Lions’ players of the tour.

Cleared after a citing for striking Waisake Naholo, the Leinster man will be an important cog in today’s final Test [KO 8.35am Irish time, Sky Sports].

Graham Rowntree speaks to the forwards in the huddle

“It was tasty,” he continues. “There was a good bit of intensity to it, a good bit of cut in it. It’s good to see before a game of this magnitude at the weekend. Lads are buzzing.

“It’s a good thing. Once the session is done then lads are best friends.”

Warren Gatland was certainly happy about it and O’Brien was pleased too. The openside flanker is a major influence on this group and has had a brilliant tour personally.

O’Brien is the kind of man who doesn’t really care for the personal plaudits, though. If he helps the Lions to a win today, he will be remembered as one of the true greats to have played for the tourists and for Ireland.

“I don’t think players genuinely think about that kind of stuff until it happens. That’s down the line, you know? We’re here to play rugby and to do what we can for each other,” says the Tullow man.

“All the external things can sit and wait until we’re finished the job. We don’t engage in it, in terms of we don’t discuss it.

“I’d be lying if I said I don’t look back on the Lions’ history and see legends of the game who are still in the spotlight because of what they’ve done years ago.

“That’s part and parcel of it. But as a player, when you’re involved in it right now, I don’t think you look at that stuff often. You’re aware of what’s gone on before you and what they’ve done.”

Sean O'Brien celebrates winning

Those days of considering himself as a Lions legend might be for when O’Brien is 60 and “sitting having a pint somewhere,” but right now he’s focused on the many details that will go into Gatland’s side giving themselves a chance.

Of course, O’Brien could have had this opportunity taken away after he was cited following the second Test.

He was cleared by a three-man Australian judicial panel, who found that there were no grounds to consider his actions as foul play. O’Brien himself always knew there was very little in an innocuous challenge.

“In my own head, the legalities of the whole thing and the ins and outs of it with the barristers and all that craic, that is what they are doing, but for me, I knew there was no intent involved in it.

“I knew I didn’t do it on purpose so I was happy in my own skin to know that. But obviously going into a hearing you are a bit nervous because you don’t know what you are going to get and you don’t know how they are going to react to something like that.

“But at the end of the day, the result was the right thing.”

It would have been a nightmare for O’Brien to have had his chance taken away, particularly after he had to sit and watch Ireland’s World Cup quarter-final in 2015 after being suspended for striking Pascal Papé a week before.

The Lions need O’Brien on the pitch for this game, that much is clear. He was been immense in New Zealand and the back row puts his physical condition, which is as good as ever, down to the six weeks of training he put in before the tour.

Sidelined by calf and hamstring issues towards the end of the season, O’Brien put the head down and is reaping the rewards.

Liam Williams and Sean O'Brien

“I did every single thing I could possibly do, I think, in those six weeks. I looked after myself incredibly well, probably the best I’ve ever looked after myself.

“I did an awful amount of work and conditioning and fitness and strengthening and everything in that time.

“I feel very good. I feel very fast and strong so, I can’t complain.”

And here he is, ready for a Lions series decider against the best team in the world.

O’Brien is on his second tour and he helped Gatland’s men to success in Australia four years ago, but this all feels a little bit more special to him. Critics of the Lions suggest their future is doomed, but O’Brien believes these occasions cannot be lost.

“The Lions should always be kept. I don’t see why you’d get rid of the Lions. It’s been a unique part of history. It’s a massive thing for players, a massive objective for players in their careers.

“As for the fans, it’s a world event, you know? I can never see it disappearing. You see last weekend and the crowd, and what they bring to it, and how much we enjoy it as players. It’s an amazing thing.”

All Blacks:

15. Jordie Barrett
14. Isreal Dagg
13. Anton Lienert-Brown
12. Ngani Laumape
11. Julian Savea
10. Beauden Barrett
9. Aaron Smith

1. Joe Moody
2. Codie Taylor
3. Owen Franks
4. Brodie Retallick
5. Samuel Whitelock
6. Jerome Kaino
7. Sam Cane
8. Kieran Read (captain)

Replacements:

16. Nathan Harris
17. Wyatt Crockett
18. Charlie Faumuina
19. Scott Barrett
20. Ardie Savea
21. TJ Perenara
22. Aaron Cruden
23. Malakai Fekitoa

Lions:

15. Liam Williams
14. Anthony Watson
13. Jonathan Davies
12. Owen Farrell
11. Elliot Daly
10. Johnny Sexton
9. Conor Murray

1. Mako Vunipola
2. Jamie George
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Maro Itoje
5. Alun Wyn Jones
6. Sam Warburton (captain)
7. Sean O’Brien
8. Taulupe Faletau

Replacements:

16. Ken Owens
17. Jack McGrath
18. Kyle Sinckler
19. Courtney Lawes
20. CJ Stander
21. Rhys Webb
22. Ben Te’o
23. Jack Nowell

Referee: Roman Poite [FFR]

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