Saturday 18 November 2017

Irvine hails veteran O'Driscoll as one of 'greatest players in last 30 years'

Andy Irvine, the Lions tour manager
Andy Irvine, the Lions tour manager
Conor George

Conor George

PLAYERS of Brian O'Driscoll's ability, reputation and – especially in his case – longevity defy definition.

Lions manager Andy Irvine probably came closer than most in making sense of the phenomenon that is O'Driscoll and he did so without hyperbole, realising it is redundant in the Irishman's case. Better to say it plainly.

"Brian has been one of the greatest players on the planet in the last 20-30 years," stated Irvine.

The generous words of respect were not spoken lightly. And coming from Irvine, a man whose exploits in a Lions shirt still command respect to this day, lends all the more weight to them.

"When I see what Brian does on this tour, any kids who come up and ask for an autograph he is always the first to find time. He is an absolute star, just a great ambassador for the game and you only have to look at his record on the field. He is a role model."

With both Sam Warburton and Paul O'Connell missing the final and deciding Test against Australia this Saturday because of injury, O'Driscoll is the obvious candidate for the captain's armband.

"There are three or four potential captains but Brian has done it all before with the Lions and Ireland," Irvine said.

Unsurprisingly it's O'Driscoll's longevity and his continuing brilliance that most impresses Irvine. He is genuinely in awe of the 34-year-old. "I do feel for him because he has had so many bumps over the last 12-13 years. I'm amazed he is in one piece.

"Even at his age he is unbelievably heroic, he is a great trainer. I can't speak highly enough of him and I don't think anyone else would say anything different, either."

Irvine (right) doesn't believe that all is lost for the Lions after losing the second Test at the weekend.

After a brief defence of the decision to spend much of the week in Noosa – "The boys needed to recharge their batteries and where better to do it than up here?" – it will be business as usual for the squad today.

"They're back hard at it training on Wednesday morning. We have a hugely important game on Saturday.

"There's been a lot of idle chat about the Lions future, about how we have to win this series otherwise the Lions are going to fall out of existence.

"The reality is this tour is possibly the most successful ever in terms of interest, enjoyment and the number of fans following us.

"We think Saturday's game is so important because quite frankly it's about time we won in the southern hemisphere.

"We haven't won in Australia since 1989 and haven't won in the southern hemisphere since South Africa in 1997. That's a trend that we need to change."

Irvine was careful to thread a very conciliatory path when asked about the James Horwill appeal and reiterated that the Lions management had nothing to do with it.

He did, however, leave some room for ambiguity with his assessment of the original incident. "We were as surprised as anyone when the IRB said that they were going ahead with an appeal. Once the judicial officer gave his view last week we felt it was done and dusted and we moved on.

"Personally, my view is that it didn't look very clever. The ball wasn't close to it (incident) but I've seen a hell of a lot worse in my time. It was up to the judicial officer.

"He is a very decent guy. He was involved in the Cian Healy hearing. He is very experienced and if that is his view, we are happy to accept it."

It is expected that there will be a number of changes to the Lions team for Saturday's game and Irvine confirmed that Jamie Roberts, Alex Corbisiero and Mike Phillips are all expected to be available for consideration.

Irish Independent

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