O’Driscoll wants something to shout about

Brian O'Driscoll may be preparing for a fourth tour with the British & Irish Lions, but the Irish legend says his record in red is "nothing to shout about". [more]

O’Driscoll wants something to shout about

Brian O’Driscoll may be preparing for a fourth tour with the British & Irish Lions, but the Irish legend says his record in red is "nothing to shout about".

But the ‘old man’ of the 2013 tour party is ready to change all that as he goes in search of a first series win on tour in Australia to add a final shine to one of the greatest rugby careers of all-time.

“I've played only six Lions Tests and managed to win one game. One from six isn't anything to shout about, so I need to try and do my best to get involved and get the balance up a bit,” admitted O’Driscoll in an interview with Georgina Robinson, of the Sydney Morning Herald..

“You judge yourself not on being selected, but on winning things. It took me a long time in my career to win anything of great substance.

“I won a couple of Triple Crowns with Ireland throughout the Noughties, then finally won a Grand Slam and managed to win a couple of Heineken Cups, but it's come later in my career. And I'm only too happy that if I have to wait for a fourth tour to be part of a winning Test series team then so be it – it will have been worth the wait.

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“I've been on three tours, but I've been on three losing tours, and it's hard to get away from that – so a fourth tour is all about going and winning. I'm delighted to be part of it.

“I’m pleased to have the opportunity to fight for my place in the Test team and help towards a series win, because the Lions need to go back to their winning ways. I think it's important for the franchise.”

You have to go back to 1997 for the last time a Lions team won a Test series. Martin Johnson led the Lions to a 2-1 series win over the then world champions Springboks in South Africa, winning the opening two Tests to end a 23 year wait for a victory.

The gap now is 16 years and O’Driscoll more than anyone knows how hard it is to bring a Lions team together in such a short space of time to tackle one of the top teams in the world in their own backyard.

He was a relative newcomer on the international stage when he went to Australia for the first time in 2001, scoring a wonder try on his Lions Test debut to secure an opening triumph in the series. But the Qantas Wallabies regrouped and won the next two Tests to win a series against the Lions for the first time in their history.

His tour in 2005, when he led the Lions to New Zealand, was blighted by a dangerous double tackle in the opening two minutes of the first Test that left him with a broken collar-bone. Injury also forced him out of the winning third Test in South Africa four years ago.

So how should Warren Gatland, his coaches and 37 players approach the 125th anniversary tour this summer?

“You just have to have a very clear understanding of the way you want to play the game. We all need to be singing off the same hymn sheet. And because it's such a short time you're together, not having too complex a game plan, but at the same time, building in scope for guys to be able to read what they see in front of them,” said O’Driscoll.

“These are the cream of players in the home nations and they have to be given a little bit of scope to play what they see. But with regards to plans, I think the key is in keeping it fairly simple because you don't have that much time to bed it down.

“And especially this time because you know you're playing the smartest rugby team, more often than not, in world rugby. They're good thinkers, they're not like the South Africans with the same level of physicality that they bring, and then with New Zealand it's just a slight different brand, but from a smart point of view on a rugby pitch, I always thought Australia make a lot of really good calls.

“Will Genia is probably one of their most dangerous players. He epitomises their way of playing and their decision-making.

“When he's going well invariably Australia are going well. Adam Ashley-Cooper is Mr Consistent and has been for a lot of years now, irrespective of where he plays. In the pack it's been fairly interchangeable in recent years and with a guy like David Pocock gone you don't know whether George Smith is going to come back in there.

“He's a phenomenal rugby player. To still be going in an attritional position like flanker for as many years as he has is quite amazing. For him to still be able to get out of bed in the morning, let alone potentially play Test rugby again, is amazing.”

While the rest of the rugby world was fully expecting O’Driscoll to be named in Gatland’s tour party, the 34-year-old took nothing for granted. But he wanted it!

“I suppose I was very hopeful but there's always an element of doubt because you don't know what a coach is thinking. In 2005, I was captain so I knew I was in, and in 2009 I was told by Ian McGeechan that I wasn't going to be captain, so I knew he wasn't going to drop me from 'You're not captain' to 'By the way, you're not in the squad' in separate conversations,” said O’Driscoll.

“But this time around there'd been radio silence from Warren Gatland, so when you don't hear there's always an element of doubt. If I'm brutally honest, the aura of the Lions probably didn't really register with me until the 2009 tour, which I enjoyed the most.

“The first one was a learning experience. I was just a young kid and I kept myself to myself and listened and answered when spoken to, whereas as captain I had a very different experience in 2005.

“In 2009, I didn't have the pressure of the captaincy on me and I was able to be a bit freer. We had a really tight squad and I really understood what being a Lion was about.

“I've definitely seen things that have gone wrong and been corrected in subsequent tours. You have to make an extra effort and leave your nationality at the door and become a Lion.

“Small things like you really need to be rooming together to get to know guys from other countries because you can have preconceived notions as to who people are.

“Someone like Mike Phillips, for example, you see playing with the narkiness and the edge he has, being very confrontational. He's the sort of guy you'd really like to dislike, but then you realise he's good fun and quite different.”

As the senior pro in every sense in the 2013 Lions squad, O’Driscoll has pledged to offer as much help and advice as is required for new captain Sam Warburton. The Welshman will have the luxury of having not one, but two former Lions tour and Test captains backing him up, a first for any tour.

“The captaincy is such a huge, huge honour that it's impossible you could ever turn it down. But there are huge pressures that come with being Lions captain,” added O’Driscoll.

“There's a big onus on you to try to get everyone to gel, to try to get certain people on side immediately, and the captain always needs the experienced players to buy into his way of thinking. There's definitely a responsibility on me and Paul O’Connell as previous captains to try to help Sam.

“It's not a one-man job. There's a focal point of one person but in any successful team there's always three, four, five leaders littered throughout the side. From what I've heard Sam commands great respect amongst his peers within Wales.”

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