Brian O'Driscoll: 'The odd night out never does any harm, just having a laugh together'
Team bonding doesn't just happen – you have to come out of your comfort zone
Published 11/06/2013 | 05:00
We had been so lucky on the injury front, but it is starting to catch up with us. It is tough for everyone. You are just starting to get to know guys and all of a sudden they are gone.
I know Cian Healy and Tommy Bowe, the injured boys, well. When I got injured in 2005 I made the absolutely fatal error of staying around for two whole weeks. That is why in 2009, when I got concussed in the second Test, I could not get out of there quickly enough.
I would never dream of advising any of the lads how to react but, for me, being injured and still on tour is not the same. You do not feel part of it.
I attended Cian's disciplinary hearing on Friday and gave a character reference. It took four hours and gave me an insight into how it all works, hearing both sides of the argument.
In the end there was no case to answer and I am so pleased for Cian. That sort of charge stays with you a long time. Biting is very different to other offences – it is on a par with gouging and there is no place for either. It is beyond the pale, the two really disgusting offences in the game.
It has been a tough few days with injuries, citings and players heading home. But I think we are getting the spirit of 2009 here; that was the most enjoyable of my previous tours and there is very much a sense of what made that work happening with this squad.
There is no formula for bringing about team spirit or for bonding. You have to be willing to get out of your comfort zone, to not just spend time with guys from your own country. Even doing something such as going for a coffee.
Sounds simple? Well, not if you do not know the guy and he has been an adversary. So you have to make yourself do that, and it invariably pays off.
The only way you can get to know people, to gel with them, is to spend time with them, find out about their private life and interests. The odd night out never does any harm, just having a laugh together.
Who have I hooked up with? Manu Tuilagi. I did not know him at all but I had a good time with him in Hong Kong. You can only talk rugby for so long. There is more to us than rugby. Of course, you have to get the tone right, such things as who enjoys a bit of banter, who you are going to be pals with and who will be just a team-mate. That becomes apparent pretty quickly.
I got on well with Jamie Roberts in South Africa. We are paired together against Combined Country today, the first time in harness since the second Test in 2009. I am looking forward to getting that relationship going again. It helped that we had a pretty good understanding quite quickly.
You can get lucky like that sometimes, getting on with them as a person as well as a player. It allows you to play off them more intuitively. It worked well with Manu, too, against Western Force and I genuinely believe that our little soiree together helped. I draw the line at copying his tattoos, however.
All this matters, and sharing rooms together does, too. We shared in 2009 but not in 2005. South Africa in 2009 was the most fun of the three previous Lions tours I have been on.
We shared rooms together in 2001 but we completely overtrained and people were just exhausted by the end. I am in with Mike Phillips here in Brisbane so there is good entertainment to be had. Mind you, since he has turned 30, there is a new him. Very professional.
This time we seem to be on the move a lot and the kick-offs have a bearing, too. With afternoon kick-offs you do get time together in the evening. That is when you unwind and have a few beers together.
The non-playing squad members went home early after the Queensland match. By the time the others got in, it was midnight. Some of the boys were already in bed. It is not as conducive to hanging out after games.
It is bizarre how, within a week, you forget all the national rivalries and it's amazing how honest guys can be with one another about their own set-ups, what works and what does not.
In 2005, there was too much stuff going on and the squad was so big, we did not have a chance to buy into one another. There were a couple of lads I did not even train with, never mind play with.
I'm not one for going sightseeing too much. I figure that one day I'll get back here and do it properly.
I know the intricacies of a hundred hotel lobbies round the world. And team rooms – I could do a masters degree in them. I prefer having a coffee and people-watching. It just enables you to switch off for an hour.
The early pace of the game on Saturday night was extraordinary.
A couple of the Reds guys were wondering themselves how they could sustain such a tempo. The answer was that you can't. It is impossible. One of the lads looked up at the clock and saw that it read '15'. He thought it was 15 to go in the half rather than only 15 gone. So much had already happened. But the boys dug in and did well.
From minute one, you saw the tap-and-go from their own line, in the style of their captain, Quade Cooper. It was exciting to watch but draining. That game would not have been possible in Hong Kong.
And now for today. Our level of professionalism is such that we will never take anyone lightly but we have to be ruthless. We are trying to raise our standards and not plateau. We are going to go out and play hard for 80 minutes. You cannot think ahead to the Test series, this tour is all about living the moment.
(© Daily Telegraph, London)
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