Sunday 24 September 2017

O’Driscoll demands better from himself and Blues

Brian O'Driscoll
Brian O'Driscoll

GETTING to the top is tough, but Leinster are learning that staying there is harder.

Alex Ferguson knows all about it, Brian Cody too. But beyond those two greats there are not many examples of teams who are able to consistently win titles and hold on to their status as top dogs. Eras end, power shifts, players retire.

So, Brian O'Driscoll sits at a table in UCD alongside his coach Joe Schmidt and assesses Leinster's place in the world.

Having collected three of the last four European titles, the champions are struggling to find form as injuries bite. They were hammered by Connacht, played well in patches in the derby with Munster and got out of jail at home to Exeter.

They travel to Llanelli tomorrow expecting an ambush against a Scarlets team already in the last chance saloon. They know that a win is essential ahead of their mammoth double-header with Clermont in December, and O'Driscoll wants his team to stand up to the plate.

Responsibility

"Playing for Leinster is a responsibility and it is about guys understanding that," O'Driscoll said.

"Every time you pull the jersey on you are not just representing yourself, you are representing everyone in the organisation.

"When you have bad losses, you have to allow that to galvanise you and realise that that is not where we are as a team -- that we haven't worked as hard as we have over the last five or six years to find ourselves in that situation.

"Those standards will never be accepted. It is about putting that right if you are lucky enough to be given the jersey the following week."

The three-time Lion made a number of uncharacteristic errors against the Chiefs last weekend and had a stark warning for the Scarlets as he looks for his own response.

"It wasn't my greatest game last week," he said. "What that does is drive you on to right the wrongs of disappointments -- albeit we did win the game -- and work on those things during the week and try and get them right on the Saturday.

"I've done that for years. Any time I've felt I've been a bit below par, I've tried to come out the following week, and not force things -- it's not about trying to work miracle plays, it's about doing simple things well and trying to be a cog in the wheel for a victory."

Leinster's players have had to field unfamiliar questions in recent weeks, with their confidence coming under scrutiny in the wake of their mixed form. But when asked yesterday if any doubt had crept into the squad's mindset, O'Driscoll denied that it was an issue.

"I don't think it is about doubting yourself. We are very aware of what we are capable of," he said. "When you set high standards and constantly try and improve year on year, and when you've had a bit of success, the pressure is constantly on you to stay on those standards.

"Its not from outside, it is pressure we put on ourselves from the coaching staff and as individuals to get better as players and collectively.

"We are working hard, of that there is no doubt. Guys are training hard, there are a lot of extras going on and sometimes it is just about taking your eye off the small things and taking things for granted a little bit.

"Last week's game allows you to focus a little bit and not take those things for granted."

There has been plenty of talk this week about the Lions. Leinster and the Scarlets are likely to provide a number of backs to the travelling squad when it heads for Hong Kong in May, and the tourists' head coach Warren Gatland is likely to be keeping an eye on events at Parc y Scarlets as he recovers from heel surgery.

O'Driscoll is putting it out of his mind, but the No 13 shirt appears to be a shootout between himself and his opposite number tomorrow, Jonathan Davies -- a player who the Ireland captain rates highly.

"I haven't played against him many times but I've watched and admired him," he said of the 24-year-old Wales centre.

"He's really evolved as a player, he was always a strong ball-carrier but has really married his ability to play-make with that, so he's a very, very good player.

"In the last year he's hit a rich vein of form as well, he played well during the summer for Wales, and he gets on the scoresheet an awful lot which is a good sign in any outside back.

"I understand that June is a long way away and there's a lot of rugby to be played. There's no place for one-upmanship here or there, it's about trying to get a good performance and a positive result for the province and no one else.

"All I want to do is play well so it allows the team to play well around me as well, that's all I can really focus on."

Davies is just one part of a serious Scarlets backline packed with threats who Leinster will have to stop.

Alongside the centre there are the likes of Rhys Priestland, George North and Scott Williams, who are all in the running to tour next summer, and O'Driscoll knows Leinster will need to limit their opportunities.

"It is about starving teams of possession, full stop," he said. "You try and hold on to the ball as much as you can. We didn't have the level of possession we wanted to have last week and it is about getting the shift there.

"They definitely have a talented backline with some big ball-carriers. They have a lot of guys who have played for Wales and have played well recently.

"It is not just a backline thing. It is about pressure from the whole team when they have the ball and making sure we limit them when we can and play smart when we have the ball."

It is victories in matches like tomorrow's that got Leinster where they are today and it sounds like O'Driscoll is in the mood to keep them there.

Irish Independent

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