Tuesday 12 December 2017

'We need to play with a little bit of anger'

O'Driscoll determined to grab last chance at securing victory over All Blacks with both hands

2001
2001
Brian O'Driscoll shows the scars of Ireland’s defeat to Australia during yesterday’s press conference at Carton House BRENDAN MORAN / SPORTSFILE
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

BY Sunday night, the All Blacks will have accounted for fully 10pc of Brian O'Driscoll's Test-career opponents and almost a quarter of his defeats.

Since 1999, the Leinster, Lions and Ireland centre has been at the vanguard of Irish players who have broken glass ceilings all around them. Winning in Paris, securing club wins in France, Triple Crowns, the Grand Slam, Heineken Cups, Lions tours and beating Australia at the World Cup have all been ticked off the list.

Beating New Zealand remains the last great hoodoo. If things go according to form and Ireland are beaten by the world champions, no one outside the camp will be surprised, but it will be a small blot on O'Driscoll's copybook.

Not enough to detract from a glorious career, but still an asterisk, a footnote, a small bit of oxygen for the detractors – "Ah, but he never did it against the All Blacks."

He very nearly did on a number of occasions and he remains, without doubt, the most respected Irish rugby player south of the equator. But, in the end, nobody really remembers the close calls.

EFFORT

"From a distance, you can just see how much effort he puts in and what it means to him. That's what I will remember the most, he has admirers all over the world because of it," said All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster yesterday, while Richie McCaw described him as "classy" when outlining his respect for the former Ireland captain.

The compliments are well-intentioned and the feeling genuine, but the 34-year-old doesn't play for plaudits. Winning has always been his goal and his drive for higher standards has helped raise the tide in Irish rugby.

O'Driscoll doesn't yet know how he will reflect on his career, he's putting that to one side for the six Tests and six months he has left. But he knows it's best not to leave anything to chance.

"I don't know whether it would gnaw at me, it's very hard to answer that going into the last time I ever get to play against them," he said.

"I'm not going in with a defeatist attitude. I'm going into it believing a win is a distinct possibility, to do everything you can to prepare yourself for giving yourself a good chance. Reflection is for when you're not playing any more and I'm not a reflective guy, certainly not now and I don't know even if I will be in time.

"But I can't think of it not being a great chance, a great opportunity, all you can ask is for these opportunities, you're never guaranteed any more than that and this is just one more and for me it is my last opportunity.

"I don't think it motivates you any differently, it just probably serves as a reminder out on the pitch that if you're struggling at some point, that you realise there are no more goes after this, maybe that inspires you a little bit, maybe it picks things up, maybe you get to a ruck or need to make a tackle.

"It's one that has eluded me, that any Irish side I have been a part of or any Lions side that I've been involved with haven't managed to beat the All Blacks and it is something that I would dearly love to do. That's the beauty of those really great victories – that they're hard fought, they're the ones that you really remember. We know what a big battle we have on our hands to achieve that so it's about building for the whole week to get to that point."

The former captain was part of the walking wounded yesterday, with the calf injury that troubled him earlier in the season returning to affect this week's preparations.

He is the reason many of the young men he watched train at Carton House got into the game – Robbie Henshaw, potentially his successor at No 13, celebrated his sixth birthday on the day O'Driscoll made his Ireland debut – and is the man who inspired them to reach for the skies.

Ireland are going into Sunday's game on the back of a performance in which they, in O'Driscoll's words, "let ourselves down individually and collectively," and they are looking for a response.

Most of those leaving Lansdowne Road last Saturday did so dreading what was coming, but O'Driscoll is relishing facing the world champions and says the inexperienced players alongside him should do so too.

"Who wants to challenge themselves against sides that you fancy yourself against?" he pondered. "No, it is against the really great teams you find out a lot about yourself, whether you really have it in you, whether you have the physicality, the mentality, the bottle.

"When you win in scenarios like that, that's why it feels special with those guys around you, because you know what it has taken. That's why you want those opportunities because one day you are going to hit that brilliant performance and it is going to be memorable and people are going to talk about it and write plays about it.

"It is (daunting for young players), yeah, but we would take the view that it's the biggest stage to perform on and that's how people make their names. The great players in the world, the guys who've gone on to have long and illustrious careers, have been thrown in at the deep end a lot of the time when it's sink or swim.

"You want that opportunity to play against the best teams. I've always said that the more chances you get to play against the best teams, the healthier it is for you to understand where you are personally and where you are collectively as a team.

"That's why it's always a joy to play against the All Blacks, albeit we haven't had the success we would have liked against them or any sort of level of success from a winning point of view."

O'Driscoll admits he was far from his best against Australia and has been on the end of plenty of flak as a result, but the reality is that he has yet to play 80 minutes since returning from the Lions and has been niggled with a calf problem that refuses to go away.

The result is trying to find form and fitness going into a clash with the best team in the world and that's not ideal.

"It's in the deep end and it's not exactly as you would have planned for, you'd want to be up and running," he said. "I am still getting my match fitness up to speed now and, hopefully, after three 70-odd minutes I am getting up to pace."

Last Saturday's performance and result will not sit well with him and with injury concerns in the Ireland camp and the world champions residing just 15km away and looking to complete a historic 100pc season, the portents of doom are many.

But Ireland's talisman is in defiant mood. This is the end of a one-way relationship and he is determined to at least go out with a fight.

"We have been licking our wounds a little," he said. "But the realisation is that we need to play with maybe a little bit of anger this weekend and make sure we are not lacking any ambition and any hunger that perhaps wasn't there last weekend."

Irish Independent

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