Fourth time around and Brian O’Driscoll is still at the centre of it all for the Lions
Ireland veteran still a leader but enjoying life on tour without responsibility of being captain
He was in vintage form, his audience eating from the palm of his hand as he imparted considered and utterly relaxed answers to almost half an hour’s questioning. This first Test of the 2013 series is also the first Lions Test ever featuring two former tour captains in its ranks and as with the other Irish talisman the day before, Brian O’Driscoll exuded a calm experience on the eve of his fourth Test series and second in Australia.
When O’Driscoll was forced out of the tour four years ago after throwing his body on the line, as he does, with that all-or-nothing hit on Dannie Rossouw, and declared he might, after all, stretch his career to a fourth tour, it seemed like the concussion had the better of him.
To return to Australia a second time is a tribute to his endurance, resilience and professionalism as much as his inordinate talent and, as with Paul O’Connell, he finds himself in bonus territory and enjoying not being captain.
“For sure, yeah, definitely. I experienced captaincy very briefly obviously from a Test rugby point of view in 2005, but even in the lead up to it. Maybe it was slightly different in that it felt a little bit more like living in a goldfish bowl in New Zealand but definitely being able to step away from that and not having the responsibility of captain makes your tour a little bit more enjoyable, albeit the honour of being captain is so enormous, there are pressures that come with it.”
“So, I’ve enjoyed being able to be a senior player and add my tuppence worth when it’s asked of me, or where I feel that I can add to sessions or add to team meetings. In all teams there is one captain, yeah, but it’s important to have leaders scattered throughout them as well that can take some of that pressure off the captain.”
That said, it’s also worth stressing how much he and O’Connell, along with everyone else in the squad, have been impressed with their 24-year-old captain, Sam Warburton.
“He’s doing really well. The thing I like about Sam is that he’s not someone that speaks for the sake of speaking, but when he does, he definitely has the attention of his team. Yeah, I’ve been impressed by him.”
More than a tuppence
Ironically, both O’Driscoll especially and O’Connell are probably better qualified to captain the Lions now than when they were chosen, and according to insiders, their contribution has been worth considerably more than a tuppence. No less than O’Connell, O’Driscoll has also been struck, and even a little impressed by, a quieter pre-match dressing-room than they’ve become accustomed to over the years.
“My understanding of it is that all four countries do things differently, and obviously in Ireland we’re talkers and so maybe there’ll be a need for us to tone it down a little bit.
“That might get us going but might not necessarily work for everybody else. So it’s about trying to strike a balance. I kinda had a quiet word with one or two of the lads and inquired about whether they felt there was too much chat.
“So it’s about just getting it right, and I think it’s good when you’re talking about relative things but when people hear noise, I think they switch off a little bit. So no chat for the sake of chat.”
As he spoke, one’s mind went back to the 1997 Living with the Lions DVD, when there appeared to be an awful lot of noise. That DVD of that last series win did more than anything to revive the whole Lions concept. Asked how the Lions has remained the ultimate accolade in the minds of British and Irish players, he began by simplifying things neatly.
“The top 37 players in Britain and Ireland, and you realise the amount of people that do play your sport and yet you’ve been selected in that. With the calibre of players that go on Lions tours I think that married with the history of great Lions tours – ’71, ’74, ’97, ’89 – memorable moments for people that are Lions fans. And it’s so unique that four countries are shouting for you for a seven week period.
“It’s kind of bizarre, but it’s brilliant, and for them to have love for you as a collective for that period makes it unique and very, very special.”
He could not envisage a scenario where that might change. “I really hope not, because you see it in the guys that are first time Lions. They see how big it is and you know that one hit of it isn’t enough if you can get a second or a third hit. You crave that and you can see it in the disappointment of the guys that didn’t get selected, that this is the ultimate for a British and Irish player. The honour of playing in that jersey; it’s a very, very special jersey.”
Ultimately, while he loves wearing it again and being part of a fourth Lions’ tour is all very nice, it will pain him if it’s a fourth losing series.
“I’m not going to be involved in any more World Cups and it’s probably a big shout for Ireland to win a World Cup, but that apart, for me the only other attainable thing that I’m going to be able to achieve in my career that I haven’t previously won is winning a Lions Test series. I dearly want to be part of that for my own sake but also for the Lions’ sake going forward. I think we need to win one of these series soon and let’s hope it starts tomorrow.”
You’d want it, for him more than anybody. His stellar career would be so much more complete. In any event, with the memories of the Gabba and his baggy red jersey in mind, it’s time to start parping the trumpet in the city where it all began.
“Yes, it is, it is the only Test match I have won in six. And it was a great day and it is time to add to it. I don’t want to be someone who has a lot of appearances but ultimately not won a series.
“That is what ultimately it comes down to. You talk about the fun and the gelling and everything but at the end of the day, if we got on terribly, I’d take above getting on great and great friends and losing a series. That is not what this is about.”