Thursday 19 April 2018

'We are going to see a different All Blacks team this weekend' - Brian O'Driscoll issues stark warning

'That wasn't New Zealand as they saw themselves,' claims 2023 bid ambassador

Israel Dagg sees the funny side of things as he falls over during the New Zealand training session in Westmanstown yesterday Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Israel Dagg sees the funny side of things as he falls over during the New Zealand training session in Westmanstown yesterday Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

It was all Brian O'Driscoll could do to avoid the All Blacks collecting their silverware with grimaced grins in London's Hilton Hotel last Sunday night.

The impending inductee into World Rugby's Hall of Fame - he jokes that he thought he was a bit young for such a splendid garland - watched agog as the men in black swept the awards.

Jamie Heaslip's stunning finish of Ireland's Italian job earned him try of the year but otherwise it was a veritable carve-up for the All Blacks.

Little better, one might suspect, than tea and sympathy following the puncturing of their aura in Chicago a week before.

"They are licking their wounds," he warns his erstwhile team-mates and coach, as if they need to be reminded. "There is no doubt they are coming ready.

"I heard a lot from them because they picked up a lot of awards. That says a lot about their team. That wasn't New Zealand as they saw themselves ten days ago.

"They want to put that right. We are going to see a different team. We are going to have to produce a better performance ourselves. There is no reason to think that we don't have a bigger performance too."


Ireland have already established their agenda in the build-up to the weekend and O'Driscoll's recent and intimate knowledge of the set-up - particularly Schmidt's role in it - confirms the thesis.

Ireland will know that not only will the All Blacks be better - as well as bitter; Ireland must improve too.

"Joe would have pulled from the game apart with a fine-tooth comb and he would have picked out eight or ten things that we could improve on," O'Driscoll elaborates.

"It wouldn't have been, 'Let's have a look at the great tries we scored.' It would have been about, 'Look at the errors you made.'

"System errors. Defensive errors. Lost ball. Inaccuracy at the ruck. All those things. So he will plant the seed in all the players' head that, 'Look, we could all improve by five or ten or 15pc', without a shadow of a doubt.

"And if they think that and do manage to do that we will be a handful to deal with."

Chicago was a unique experience for O'Driscoll as well as his former team-mates.

For it was the first time he could remember not being at a game where he wasn't a pundit or either a fit or injured participant.

And so, at least for one afternoon, he became a giddy fan for the first time since his teens.

"It was a very, very memorable day," he reveals. "It was lovely to become a fan. There is a disconnect between ex-players and the team for a couple of years.

"You are in limbo a bit. It was probably the game that reattached me as a fan again and getting genuinely excited about finally getting that monkey off our backs."

He took particular interest in his midfield successor; Robbie Henshaw's definitive late score seemed to some of us so similar to many of the decisive tries he himself so often managed to thieve.

"For me, people always focus on those moments, the try moments," says O'Driscoll, who thinks that Warren Gatland may now choose an Irish centre in his next Lions selection having controversially omitted one (O'Driscoll himself) in his last.

"Take that out completely, I thought he had a phenomenal game.

"It's his work rate and his engine, his appetite to get back in the line and work for players around him, either carrying the ball or doing the nasty stuff, the thankless work.

"That's where he differentiates himself from a lot of other centres in Ireland and in the northern hemisphere. He has to be a guy who is now in the mix in Warren Gatland's eyes."

Gatland picked O'Driscoll many times before, of course, and it seemed quite apt that the Dubliner's presence as a 2023 bid ambassador should be at a ground where he scored the first of his record 46 international tries in a World Cup game against the USA in 1999.

That was a co-staged event though and O'Driscoll feels this potential all-Ireland occasion will be uniquely different.

Ireland's international stock would subsequently tumble to an embarrassing nadir when losing to Argentina in a quarter-final play-off.

The picture has substantially changed in the Grand Slam, Six Nations title and European Cup-winning days since then.

Today, culminating in their belated defeat of the All Blacks, Ireland's impression on the field has significantly boosted their international reputation.

"It is not doing us any harm at all," O'Driscoll agrees.

"I am sure World Rugby want the host nation to do well. It tends to be a positive even if it didn't happen last time.

"But it definitely helps in getting credibility on the world stage when you have opponents coming and realising Ireland are no soft touch.

"But it is more about what we can deliver as a team on the welcome, on the logistics, on the stadia and on the packed out, bums on seat.

"And it is about all those small things and how players and tourists will go away with phenomenal memories," he says. Home advantage should, if it happens, help Ireland break another glass ceiling and finally reach the last four of a World Cup but O'Driscoll is confident that may happen before then, in Japan next time out.

"I think in three years' time we will feel we will get to a semi-final, even if you obviously have to wait for draws and things to come out.

"We have got a very good squad at the moment, we have a great coaching ticket - next time is always the best time to get to a semi-final.

"But if we didn't manage to do it in Japan and we got the World Cup 2023 it would absolutely help our cause.

"I am a glass-half-full sort of person so I hope we will already have gotten to a semi-final by 2023."

He is confident that this new challenge in his life can, like many others, be a successful one.

"I wouldn't be interested in delivering an okay tournament. It is about showing the best on the world stage and I have no doubt that we would be able to deliver that.

"It's just about convincing people that we are capable of delivering something exceptional, not delivering an alright tournament or an okay tournament."

Irish Independent

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