Wednesday 23 August 2017

'I'm sure Michael D wouldn't mind getting his shoes dirty' - Brian O'Driscoll gives great response to prospect of another carpet-gate

Will Slattery

Will Slattery

It is a topic almost as trodden over as the red carpet that caused the controversy in the first place.

Martin Johnson and his pack full of gnarled warriors infamously made President Mary McAleese walk on the grass during the pre-match introduction ahead of the 2003 Grand Slam decider at Lansdowne Road after the England captain refused to move his squad after lining up in the wrong position on the red carpet.

Almost 14 years have passed since England's siege mentality in Dublin propelled them to glory and Eddie Jones' side promise to be similarly bullish when they come to the Aviva Stadium on March 18 to bring the 2017 Six Nations to a close.

Ireland won't be gunning for Grand Slam glory on this occasion, due to an opening loss to Scotland, while England will likely have a 100% record intact with home encounters with Italy and Scotland to come before the Dublin decider.

But regardless of the teams' records, there could well be fireworks when the two rivals collide, with Jones' propensity for mind games sure to add something extra to a fixture that is always an annual sporting highlight.

But what of the prospect of Dylan Hartley adding further villainy to his repertoire and mimicking Johnson in disrupting our President's pre-match greeting?

Brian O'Driscoll reckons President Higgins is well able to deal with any red carpet shenanigans, and hopes that there are better protocols in place to prevent England from stealing a march in the psychological warfare.

"I would imagine that has all been resolved and I'm sure Michael D wouldn't mind getting his shoes dirty," O'Driscoll told Independent.ie, after giving some advice to the younger players in the Irish team on how to deal with challenge of England visiting the Aviva.

"My advice would be to enjoy the occasion. Those big games are why you play, to play against the best teams in the world and England are certainly one of that. Embrace it for what it is, I don't think Ireland will need any extra motivation."

For his part, Johnson was unwilling to impart any red carpet wisdom to Hartley ahead of England's trip to face Joe Schmidt's men in March.

"Go out, line up and play... don't worry about any red carpets," Johnson said with a wry laugh.

The forthcoming Lions tour will mark over two years since former Ireland captain O'Driscoll retired from professional rugby, but unlike some of his immediate peers, he has no desire to swap smart-casual attire for a tracksuit and get into coaching.

Ronan O'Gara has been building his coaching career away from Irish eyes in Paris for four seasons while Paul O'Connell has been doing some work with the Munster academy. O'Driscoll, however, is content with his punditry work and brand ambassador roles for the time being.

"Not really, what I'm doing at the moment allows me the variety I didn't have when I was playing," O'Driscoll said of his interest in taking up a coaching role.

"Of travelling, of booking holidays in advance knowing I can go, I can ski. I'm not restricted to the time scale of the rugby season or the itinerary of 40 other players. The coaching bit on BT I enjoy but I certainly don't see myself in the time being getting into coaching. I'm not trying to replace rugby."

He obviously doesn't long for the days of going over the nuts and bolts elements of the game on the training paddock, but there are some things that Brian O'Driscoll misses about the game that he graced with such distinction.

Maybe not what you expect though - Grand Slams in Cardiff, hat-tricks in Paris and passes to himself in the old Lansdowne Road aren't the go-to reference points when he talks about what he would like to go back to.

In a somewhat sadomasochism twist, O'Driscoll admits that sometimes he would like to relive some of the dark days of his career.

"Irrespective of how you leave the game it is a mourning of sorts," O'Driscoll said.

"There's aspects that you miss. In a perverse way I almost miss the defeats as much as the victories because of that emotional rollercoaster of knowing how much elation it takes to get to the victories after a defeat. There is a mourning period for a couple of years where you wonder whether you could have done it but once you get beyond that you become a fan."

Brian O'Driscoll and Martin Johnson were speaking on behalf of Land Rover, a Principle Partner of the British & Irish Lions.

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