British and Irish Lions lock Paul O'Connell believes there is "savage competition" for places in the squad ahead of the first Test against Australia on Saturday.

O'Connell was the skipper on the Lions 2009 tour and is expected to line-up alongside Alun-Wyn Jones on Saturday in Brisbane. However, his place is under threat from Ian Evans, Geoff Parling and Richie Gray who are all looking for a starting position.

The 33-year old, who made his debut for the Lions in 2005, has played in the last six Tests. He feels that this year the atmosphere is slightly different as the players are competing for a starting place.

"Every tour has been different," O'Connell told reporters. "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."

The Lions have began their tour in style, with five victories out of five. Despite this stat, many of their opponents have been below-par resulting in convincing wins.

They face the ACT Brumbies in Canberra tomorrow in their last warm-up match before Saturday.

O'Connell is pleased with the tour so far and believes the side has played well.

"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," he added. "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."

The Lions haven't won the Test series for 16 years and O'Connell has experienced some tough tours in the past.

He continued: "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 are big favourites to secure their first series success since 1997 but O'Connell feels that they face a hard few weeks. He acknowledges that Australia will pose a tough challenge and insists the squad will have to step up their game against better opponents.

"We've a very tough three weeks ahead of us," he said. "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."


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