Monday 18 November 2019

‘I’m not interested in going to Australia to lose’ -- O'Driscoll

Ireland captain determined to improve poor Lions record – if he is chosen to head Down Under

Brian O'Driscoll's Lions career started superbly with a man of the match display in the win against Australia in 2001
Brian O'Driscoll's Lions career started superbly with a man of the match display in the win against Australia in 2001

Brendan Gallagher

IRELAND captain Brian O'Driscoll will move heaven and earth to win a place on next summer's Lions tour, but has absolutely no interest whatsoever in touring if it means leaving Australia a "loser" again.

The greatest centre of the modern era turns 34 next month and is recovering from ankle surgery. The only reason he is prepared to go to the well one last time is to experience his first series win as a Lions player and to help the game's most famous touring team to a first series win since 1997.

O'Driscoll, who also says he would be happy to serve as captain again if required by coach Warren Gatland, has already been on three tours with the Lions and tasted bitter defeat in five of his six Test matches.

For a player used to winning, that is not a record he reflects on with any great pleasure and putting that right is very high on his agenda.

"If you said you can get on the trip to Australia, but you are not going to win the series, I would have no interest in going," said O'Driscoll in Leicester last night where he was starring in 'An Audience With' TV special to be broadcast over Christmas. "I have already done three tours. The only reason to go on another Lions trip would be to win the series, to do something that I haven't experienced before.

"I've been to Australia before, I've seen a lot of the route and I've seen all the places. It's great, but I can go on my holidays and do that. It's all about winning the series. I've one Lions victory in six Tests which isn't anything great to shout about.

"I don't want to go on four Lions tours and win none of them. People don't remember losing Lions tours, only winning tours.

"Different guys will go at different stages of their careers and some will enjoy the excitement of a first trip but I don't need any more experience, I just want to win one. And the Lions need to win one. They are wonderful trips but are unsustainable if you go time and time again and the home nation always wins.

"It's such a difficult thing in the modern era and that's not to take away to the tours in the 1970s and even prior to that. Now that it's much more compact and teams you play are more organised, it does make it very difficult. This series is very winnable whatever team goes down there, but it's very loseable too."

O'Driscoll's hunger will be music to Gatland's ears and if fully fit and firing, the player must stand every chance of one final Lions hurrah in Australia after a career which started gloriously in 2001 when he scored one of the best tries of his career in a sensational 29-13 win in the First Test at the Gabba. Since then though, he has endured very mixed fortunes.

Martin Johnson's side slipped to a 2-1 defeat in that series 12 years ago and then O'Driscoll endured the agony of being carried out of the 2005 Tour of New Zealand on a stretcher with a dislocated shoulder when he fell victim to the notorious double spear tackle by Tana Umaga and Kevan Mealum 40 seconds into the first Test at Christchurch.

The All Blacks appeared to target the opposition captain that night and, seven years on, the debate and controversy over that incident still rages.

In 2009, after captaining Ireland to a Grand Slam, O'Driscoll enjoyed a more relaxed role as the senior pro behind the scrum with Paul O'Connell taking on the captaincy. Although the Lions contributed to a superb series, they went down with O'Driscoll's participation ending midway through the second Test when he knocked himself out making a thunderous tackle on Danie Roussouw.


And 2013? One thing is for certain, if he is considered to be playing well enough to tour, he must be one of the front-runners for the captaincy in which case he would join Johnson as the only man to do the job twice.

"Having been captain on a tour, then toured when I'm not captain, I can tell you it is very different," says O'Driscoll. "There is a lot of pressure as the Lions skipper.

"It was a lot more relaxing just being another player in South Africa, I was able to enjoy it and there was less scrutiny than there had been in New Zealand.

"Paul did a good job in 2009, but we fell short as a team. Whoever does the job this time has to use the leadership group around him. There will be some guys who have been on previous tours and it is important to get them working for the captain. The key is that there is a tight-knit squad with a common goal, whatever the individual highs and lows along the way.

"It would be impossible to turn down the opportunity if I was asked to be captain again, even though there are huge stresses that go with it. It's too great an honour to contemplate saying no but there are so many names being bandied around at the moment that I genuinely don't take much heed.

"Your captain needs to be starting in the Test team, and it's difficult to say at this stage that there is anyone in Britain and Ireland who is guaranteed to be starting."

Brian O'Driscoll was speaking on behalf of HSBC, principal partner of the Lions tour to Australia next year

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