Wednesday 21 February 2018

O'Driscoll shows desire by spelling out home truths

Ireland veteran's frank discussion with team-mates highlights star's burning ambition to retire with Lions series victory under his belt

Brian O'Driscoll signs autographs for Lions fans after the 23-21 victory over Australia at the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane
Brian O'Driscoll signs autographs for Lions fans after the 23-21 victory over Australia at the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane
Conor George

Conor George

BRIAN O'DRISCOLL has warned his Lions team-mates that their performance on Saturday was nowhere near good enough to secure a series win.

Even before they left the field, the Ireland veteran called the squad together and spelled out a few home truths, starting with the fact that they were lucky to escape Brisbane with a precious first Test success.

"Drico spoke afterwards on the pitch, and he said we didn't actually play anywhere near as well we can do," England's Geoff Parling revealed.

"We won the game, but there are things we have to work on. We knew straight away what he was saying.


"He was honest and I'm sure when we review it in meetings this week, it'll be pretty honest as well because that's the way it's got to be."

O'Driscoll is on his fourth Lions' tour and last week spoke of his burning desire not to finish his career without a Test series win.

He was again outstanding for the Lions on Saturday, although he did experience some issues with regard to the referee's interpretation of the breakdown.

"Brian was frustrated with the penalties against him," said head coach Warren Gatland. "One of BOD's strengths is his ability to get on the ball and create turnovers. And he just felt he wasn't able to effect that as part of his game as he'd been penalised on a couple of occasions.

"He summed it up as: 'If I get penalised again I'm going to get yellow carded,' so he stayed away from the ball and that was part of the experience he has of the game."

The Lions fly to Melbourne today and play the Melbourne Rebels tomorrow. The starting team includes four Irish players, with Rory Best on the bench.

Tommy Bowe is not being risked at this stage, but is, Gatland insisted, in contention for Saturday night's second Test.

"Tommy is one of the best players that we have got available to us and one of the reasons we took the risk on George North," he said.

"If Tommy had been fit and available for this week, we probably wouldn't have put George North in at the weekend.

"But Tommy is ready to go. We just want to give the wound on his hand a few more days to heal. He's in the mix for Saturday."

Like Gatland, Jamie Heaslip has spoken about change in focus from the 2009 tour to the current Lions tour.

It's been 16 years since the Lions last won a Test series. In the interim the brand took a massive battering in 2005 when humiliated by New Zealand and were beaten in all three Tests.

The tour to South Africa was one Gatland believes the Lions "could and probably should have won," but the priority then was about "restoring pride in the shirt."

Now it's about winning.

"The result is what's important and is what was important on Saturday night, not the performance," said Gatland.

Heaslip forged his reputation as one of the world's best No 8s on that tour to South Africa and has picked up where he left off this time around. His form vacillated in the years in between, but he has now won back-to-back Test matches.

"Jeez, I didn't think of it that way," he said when reminded that the Lions won the last Test of the 2009 series and now the first of the 2013.

"We spoke about regaining some pride that last day in South Africa. That last game was the last time for four years the jersey was going to be worn and that resonated with us.

"I remember in the first Test then we started off real slow and were hosed by South Africa. We knew we had to start fast this time around, which is what has happened with all the games on tour so far.

"The first 20 minutes were mental and tested the lungs. We came through, have the win and bring some momentum into the second Test as a result."

The pressure is on the Lions not to blow their hard work and suffer the same fate as the 2001 tourists who lost the series despite winning the first Test at Brisbane's Gabba Stadium, with Gatland alluding to the suggestion that overall victory is needed to keep the Lions concept alive.

"Part of the whole remit of 2009 for the coaches was to put some respect back into that red jersey after what happened in 2005 in New Zealand.

"But this series isn't about respect, it's about delivering. And we're well aware of that and the players are well aware of that as well.

"For the Lions to continue as an entity we need to be successful. And I think world rugby wants the Lions to be successful as well.

"When you see the crowd and the atmosphere, it's something special, something nothing else can create apart from a World Cup. We need to keep that fantasy, or history if you like, alive."

Neither Gatland nor Heaslip are under any doubt about the enormity of the challenge still facing them and both expect a rejuvenated and determined Australian side to come at them in Melbourne on Saturday.

"Oh, God yeah, they'll improve for next week," said Heaslip. "In a way this is like knock-out football. They'll scratch that game, we have to scratch it as well, and start all over again.

"We have to assess it like you do in knock-out football, what you did well, what you didn't do well, what you want more of.

"There are things we have to work on, things we did well and not so well. And they'll have things they need to work on too.

"You can be sure they're going to come hard at us next week," Heaslip added.

Australia will have new personnel on duty on Saturday following the attritional battle in Brisbane that saw a raft of their starting backs stretchered off. They have been boosted by James Horwill's availability after his citing hearing.

The Wallabies have called up George Smith, his Brumbies team-mate Jesse Mogg, and the Queensland Reds centre Ben Tapuai for the game.

"They have quality players out there. Beale obviously came on and caused us a couple of concerns. We know what (Israel) Folau is like in terms of his attacking abilities. He is pretty special.

"Potentially, they will have a bit more firepower with some players they might coming into their squad," added Heaslip.

Irish Independent

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