Thursday 14 December 2017

Lions must be ready for mind games – O'Driscoll

Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll during a gym session before squad training ahead of their RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship match against England on Sunday
Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll during a gym session before squad training ahead of their RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship match against England on Sunday
David Kelly

David Kelly

Brian O'Driscoll, still just "hoping" to make a fourth Lions series this summer, has said that Australia will do everything in their power to "mess with the heads" of the touring players.

And describing the treatment of Richard Hill on the 2001 tour as "disgraceful", the prospective captain echoes coach Warren Gatland's recent controversial comments about certain players being targeted.

"It's not just rugby matches the Lions will be playing down there, it's constant mind games with the Australians," says O'Driscoll, speaking in the latest issue of 'Rugby World'.

"A tour to Australia is very different than a tour to New Zealand or South Africa. Without a doubt the Australians are the cleverest rugby nation in the world. Their players are smart, their media...

"Their rugby union will try to mess the Lions around in subtle ways, just like they did in 2001 after the first Test, when they stuck all our supporters up with the gods in Melbourne because they saw how our people took over the stadium in Brisbane and made it as close to a home match as you're ever likely to get.

"They're canny, the Australians. It's not a myth, they really do try and mess with your head, and as long as you're ready for that, then that's fine.

"Fair enough, last year they lost to Scotland and France gave them a beating, but that's irrelevant. They'll be ready for the Lions. And they'll have an attitude of 'whatever it takes' in an attempt to win the series."

Asked whether the ultimately successful targeting of England flanker Hill on the 2001 tour was "professional or disgraceful", the 2005 Lions captain, widely tipped to skipper the tourists again this year, was unhesitant.

"I'll say disgraceful. Richard Hill was one of the greatest players I've ever played with. He was a phenomenal rugby player. He was immense in everything he did – such a hard man and such a brilliant reader of the game.

"Losing him was an enormous blow, but still we should have been able to deal with it. We butchered a try in that second Test and had we nailed it I'm not sure the Wallabies would have been able to come back. Ah, you have regrets, don't you?

"That was the closest I got to winning a series. New Zealand didn't happen for me and we lost the first two in South Africa, so I suppose that's the one I think about. If I don't win with the Lions, then 2001 will be the one I'll look back on."

O'Driscoll is hoping to get the chance to work with Gatland again.

"He's done brilliantly, Gatty," O'Driscoll says. "I'll be forever grateful to him for giving me my first cap and we did well under him. We were one game away from a Grand Slam in 2001, the year he was fired. He'd have been 38 or 39 when he lost the Ireland job, which is still ridiculously young.

"It's a huge tribute to him that he bounced back so quickly. A lot of young coaches would have found that really hard to deal with but he went to Wasps and won everything, then he went back to New Zealand and won, then he went to Wales and won a Grand Slam in his first season and then won another one.

"He's a very astute guy. He knows exactly what he wants and he'll make sure he gets it. He's very clear-minded in what he wants his team to do and how he wants them to do it and I think he'll be excellent in Australia.

"Would I love to be there? Absolutely. Do I think I will be? I can but hope."

The latest issue of 'Rugby World' is on sale today.

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