Australia gearing up for O'Driscoll-inspired Lions
AUSTRALIA expect to face a Brian O'Driscoll-inspired Lions side during the summer tour.
Australia's coaching coordinator and former Munster head coach Tony McGahan is in no doubt that once the Ireland captain is fit he will be a big part of Warren Gatland's plans to get the Lions back to winning Test matches in the southern hemisphere.
"If Brian is fit then he will, I am sure, be a big part of the Lions tour," said McGahan. "Brian is a player who commands huge respect on this side of the world.
"What he has achieved with Leinster and, in particular, with Ireland is well known in Australia. He is a player who has certainly been a marvellous player for a long number of years and he continues to be."
It is now 16 years since the British & Irish Lions beat South Africa in Durban to clinch a series win over the then world champions.
The Lions have lost their past three tours, winning just two of nine Tests, as they struggle to emulate overall series wins in New Zealand (1971), South Africa (1974 and 1997) and Australia (1989).
That's something Gatland will be keen to address and McGahan, who also has an input into Australia's backs' coaching, believes a number of Irish players will be central to his plans. He expects Rob Kearney will be a big part of the Lions' strategy in his homeland.
"Brian and Rob will both play big parts in Leinster's assaults on two fronts for the rest of the season and will also be key to how Ireland fare in the Six Nations. They are two superb players who have been a huge reason why Leinster have been so successful over the last five or six years."
McGahan is familiar with O'Driscoll's and Kearney's exploits in a Leinster shirt from his time as coach to Munster. The Australian native was assistant coach under Declan Kidney for three years, helping the side to their two Heineken Cup titles.
He spent a further three seasons as head coach before taking up his role in the Australian national set-up.
This year's tour promises to shine the spotlight on a number of potentially new global stars as Gatland has promised he will not be swayed by past reputations when he selects his touring party.
O'Driscoll's reputation and standing in the game have not been compromised by the passage of time though and, if fit, he will tour.
"O'Driscoll is a player who can win a match with one moment of magic and I am certain he will be a part of the touring party that travels to Australia," said McGahan.
Whether Paul O'Connell will be part of that squad is unknown at present as he rehabs from his back injury. But he is another McGahan believes could well be a big part of Gatland's masterplan.
"Paul has been compromised because of injury these last few years. I don't know how things are with him other than what I have read. Having a back operation is a serious thing, but if he's fit and playing well there are few around who are better than Paul O'Connell," he said.