Thursday 26 April 2018

Aussies to target O'Driscoll as Lions mind games begin

Conor George and Ruaidhri O'Connor

BRIAN O'Driscoll might have been overlooked for the Lions captaincy, but the early indications are that Australia will target the Ireland centre in an effort to win the series.

The initial reaction Down Under to Warren Gatland's selection was predictably dismissive, with one local commentator describing the Welsh- dominated squad as "slabs of red meat."

However, Australia's legendary former captain John Eales has warned his fellow countrymen that the tourists will take some stopping and singled out O'Driscoll for special mention.

"The Lions always pick a mixture of youth and experience and there will be some guys who have been there and done that many times before; O'Driscoll is one of those guys," said Eales, who led the Wallabies to the 1999 World Cup.

"He's going to be very important, not only from a playing perspective. He more than holds his own as a player, but also very much from a leadership perspective and being able to bind that team together. He will pass on the lessons of where they fell down in Australia in 2001, so they can be a more potent force back here this year."

There have been question marks raised over the selection of 15 Welsh players and the dominant influence they will have with a primarily Welsh coaching team and captain – Sam Warburton.

However, Warburton was quick to admit that he will lean heavily on the experience of O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell during the summer tour.

"You wonder, 'how the hell am I going to captain these legends?' It is usually the experienced players who become your best advisors," admitted the 24-year-old in reference to Ireland's talismanic duo.

"I won't be contacting them before the squad assembles. I know that won't be necessary. Those are two of the players who will set the standard for the Lions this year. I suspect they are the two players I will lean on most and they will be the first guys I will talk things over with if the need arises.

"I am lucky because there are four or five of the leaders in the Wales team coming on this tour, so there will be a very strong leadership group."

This Tour will be O'Driscoll's fourth and the third for O'Connell. "It's great to have that sort of experience on tour," Warbuton added.

A total of nine Irish players will be on the plane for the summer showdown on the other side of the world, but there is widespread surprise – and relief in Australia – that Rory Best has not made the cut.

The Aussies were destroyed up front by Ireland in the 2011 World Cup and Best played a crucial role, but Gatland has chosen two England hookers, Tom Youngs and Dylan Hartley, instead.

The Ulster stalwart's omission has been slammed by former Ireland captain Keith Wood, who said he couldn't understand the logic of the decision.

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport