London Wasps centre Riki Flutey comes face to face with Brian O’Driscoll at Twickenham this afternoon but the England international hopes to be playing alongside his Irish counterpart when the Lions tour South Africa next summer.
Flutey may be fully focused on helping his club side record a crucial Heineken Cup victory over Leinster at English rugby’s head quarters but he admits that joining O’Driscoll in Lions colours has been a huge incentive since his move from his native New Zealand.
"The Lions was one of my goals when I decided to play for England," said Flutey, who made his international debut in November having qualified on residential grounds earlier in the year.
"The history of the Lions is so special."
If Flutey does earn a Lions call for this year’s series against the Springboks it would complete a stunning turn around for a player who actually played against the tourists when they travelled to New Zealand four years ago.
The inside centre cum fly-half was part of the Wellington squad that lost 23-6 to the Lions on June 15 2005 in what was his last season in his homeland before departing for London Irish.
"It was a great moment for me to come on for Wellington against the Lions in 2005," explained Flutey, who represented New Zealand at every age group and was a World Cup winner with his country’s Under 19 squad in 1999.
"I should also have been in the 22 for the New Zealand Maori against the Lions.
"I was in the team to play Fiji in the week but then Carlos Spencer got dropped from the All Blacks team so I missed out and let the big dogs come in."
Riki Flutey will face Leinster at Twickenham on Saturday January 17
Since leaving New Zealand, Flutey has been so impressive for London Irish and London Wasps that Lions legend Martin Johnson had little hesitation in handing the 28-year-old his England debut against the Pacific Islanders two-and-a-half months ago.
In his four matches wearing the Red Rose, Flutey has enjoyed something of a baptism of fire, playing against three of the world’s most highly-rated centres. Now, having faced Australian Stirling Mortlock, New Zealander Ma Nonu and South African Jean de Villiers, Flutey turns his attention to another of the world’s best in Ireland’s O’Driscoll.
"It’s always a buzz playing against someone like Brian O’Driscoll.
"I remember talking to fellow New Zealander Aaron Mauger when he first played against O’Driscoll back in 2001 and he said he was the best player he’s ever played against.
"He’s a fantastic player and I’ve got a huge amount of respect for him. But I really enjoy coming up against big names and good players to showcase my talents."
Flutey hopes that the forthcoming Six Nations will give him the perfect opportunity to display those talents as he seeks to add the Lions to his growing list of achievements.
England may have disappointed against the giants of the southern hemisphere but Flutey maintains he has enough confidence in his own ability to help his adopted country turn things around in the coming months.
"It was a huge step-up. I wanted to challenge myself on the highest level and we won’t face a harder schedule than what we faced in the autumn series.
"I’ve reviewed my own performance and the coaches seemed to happy with how things went. I know I need to improve in the Six Nations and help the team produce good performances.
"I’ve got aspirations to play for the Lions and I know the Six Nations is an opportunity to show what I can do."