Tuesday 12 November 2019

Brian O'Driscoll: 'It's not supposed to be done in Ireland - but I am supporting England in World Cup final'

England celebrate against New Zealand
England celebrate against New Zealand
Maro Itoje puts in a hard shift at training in Tokyo. The England second-row has been in outstanding form of late, according to Brian O’Driscoll. Photo: Getty

Paul Hayward

Brian O'Driscoll has thrown his weight behind an England World Cup final win, saying it would be "terrible for the game in some ways" if South Africa's pragmatism overcomes the more entertaining style played by Eddie Jones's team.

Discussing last week's semi-finals, O'Driscoll, who made 133 appearances for Ireland and played on four Lions tours, said: "We saw one way of the game being promoted, then the other semi-final where ultimately I don't think anyone in the world wants to see that - even South Africans. We want to see our showpiece being an expression of everything that's good about the game.

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"That's not always the case in finals but you'd hope England will be able to play because you want the best teams being able to play their best brand."

O'Driscoll, one of the greatest players of his generation, knows that backing England might make him unpopular at home: "This is one of the first times I've genuinely supported England - and I've been getting castigated at home, because you're just not meant to do that.

Grind

"If South Africa's best brand is what you've seen and they grind it out, then you'll take your cap off to them. You just think if both play their games the way you think they will, England will have too much firepower for them still.

"Yes we (in Ireland) want to beat England, but for me why I want to beat England is because more often than not they're one of the best teams in the world.

"Also, now, for the benefit of the game - and I'm a big promoter of the game, not being a player any more - loving the game and trying to get it to grow, you don't want growth through a boring style.

"You want growth through an exciting style, people showing their skill sets, and continuity, props throwing little flick passes. That's the way to grow the game and to get younger players with a passion for it.

"For the first time ever I will be supporting England in a World Cup final."

He identifies with the theory that South Africa's mechanical win over Wales places more pressure on England to come out on top.

"It probably ratchets it up a bit," he says. "When you see a team like South Africa ... I wouldn't say limping into the final but it certainly wasn't anything remotely close to the polished performance of England, so straight away you go in with an expectation yourself but also from the public and the media.

"Everyone is going - how can England not win this? But it's a final, and South Africa are pretty handy in finals. They'll try and play their type of game and it will be hard for England not to get drawn into that.

"I think England have a bigger power game in the pack, so they'll be able to negate that a bit more.

"Then they'll have a better platform than Wales. I don't think South Africa kicked very well. They just kicked a lot. It wasn't very accurate. I'd like to see the split of effective kicks, challenging kicks."

O'Driscoll also predicts a major contribution from Billy Vunipola and praises Owen Farrell's leadership: "The scary thing for me is that Billy Vunipola hasn't had the World Cup I anticipated he was going to have - so you'd have to think he's got one big game in him, and he may be saving it for the final.

"With the other two back-rowers (Tom Curry and Sam Underhill), the chat's all been about them. (Maro) Itoje's been phenomenal - absolutely phenomenal. And Farrell has been a warrior.

"That was heroic, his performance at the weekend. I've played with dead legs and their really debilitating. It's really hard to shake it out of your head.

"You feel as through you're below par. Then, defensively to have to chase wingers like (Sevu) Reece and (George Bridge), players with great footwork - that's nerve wracking.

Leadership

"I don't think you have to be the world's greatest orator to be a good leader. Inspiration is leadership, and he (Farrell) is no doubt inspiring players. I also think him staying in the team gives a security to everyone around. It gives a security to Manu (Tuilagi), a security to George Ford; gives a voice, gives a confidence. You can hear him on the ref-mic the whole time. He's like our Seán O'Brien. He's the one voice you constantly hear, constantly feeding information into the team."

Like many, O'Driscoll laments the loss of an all-Six Nations final.

He says: "It's shame because we would have got a better spectacle from a Wales-England final. From a neutral view, to be able to look at that and say - who's got the mettle now, the mental edge? I think England would have preferred South Africa." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Brian O'Driscoll was speaking at a Land Rover event, an Official Worldwide Partner of Rugby World Cup 2019. #LandRoverRugby

Telegraph.co.uk

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