Saturday 24 March 2018

Rob Kearney: Stage is set for O'Driscoll to make a fairytale farewell

Brian O'Driscoll
Brian O'Driscoll

Rob Kearney

I don't want to put a kiss of death on the whole thing, but this week is set up for a fairytale farewell for Brian O'Driscoll. It is too early to know for sure who will be selected as captain after we lost Sam Warburton, but Brian is the outstanding candidate at the moment.

He has captained a few games on the tour already and you would think that he would be the guy to lead the team out. As rugby players we dream of big moments and big plays in big games, and this potentially is a big ending for him, one that will see him written into the history books even more than he already has been.

For all of the weight of history on his shoulders, I haven't noticed a difference in Brian in the last few weeks. One of his great strengths is his ability to give 100pc every single time. He is not giving any less to this tour than he did in South Africa in 2009.

This week, there will be quite a bit of emotion because he knows it will be his last game for the Lions and, with that, may come some new feelings.

I've known him a long time, been in countless dressing-rooms with him and our relationship has changed over the years. When I first arrived in the Leinster dressing-room I was 19, fresh-faced with a bit of a swagger, straight out of school.

In the same way that I have matured over the past seven or eight years, my relationship with a guy I have played alongside is going to be enhanced too.

Everyone who has played with Brian learns a huge amount from him, but the thing I admire the most about him is not so much on the field, but it is how he conducts himself off it – his approach to rugby, his desire to always win and the person who he is. Those are the things that impress me most about him.

This week is very different to the final week in South Africa four years ago. Then, having narrowly lost both Tests, we were fighting for our own pride a bit and we were also fighting to save the idea of the Lions and what that represents. Now, guys are fighting to become rugby immortals and achieve something that, for everyone, would be the highlight of their career.

I feel that we need to be a bit more ambitious in terms of the rugby that we are playing. We need to back our ability a little bit more; there are some real quality players in the team who can score lots of tries.

It is about trying to get into those positions more often, being more comfortable with ball in hand and looking dangerous and creating those try-scoring opportunities, which is something we probably didn't do enough of at the weekend.

The players really were gutted after the defeat to Australia because we could have won the series.

I feel that the Lions team is far superior to Australia's, but we didn't play well on the night and it was important that guys were able to get over the defeat and pick themselves up early in the week because they still have a decider to come this weekend. It is really important to park the negative vibes and get back on the horse again.

We travelled to Noosa and got away from the glare of the Lions tour. These things are always hard to call – if we win at the weekend, the trip will be hailed as the difference and, if we lose it, we will come in for criticism.

It is up to guys themselves to make sure that they are in a really good place mentally. You're in somewhere like Noosa, it is quiet and there are very few supporters around and the lads can relax before moving to Sydney tomorrow.

Although I have not been involved in the Test matches, the schedule has been the same for the entire squad and the only day those of us who didn't play have not been involved was the captain's run before the game.

We did a squad session yesterday, another today and then the matchday 23 will do the captain's run tomorrow.

Training has been modified due to the injuries and that isn't ideal for players looking to break into the team, but I'm continuing to train hard.

Noosa is one of the nicest areas in Australia. We were strolling down the beach looking at the houses on the beachfront. The property prices down here are mad, it's AUS$2-2.5m for a two-bedroom apartment on the beachfront.

It is a sought-after place and it has given lads an opportunity to get on jet-skis and do plenty of watersports and I've been able to enjoy that.

Some of the lads went to Steve Irwin's zoo, so there is a lot to do to pass the time and we can do things we haven't been able to do over the last few weeks.

After the relaxation, it is time to switch into 'match mode' ahead of the final Test. For the 23 selected, it is going to be the pinnacle of their careers and it is up to the squad to deliver.

Irish Independent

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