Brian O’Driscoll presents Lions players with their jerseys
Former touring captain was chosen for the honour ahead of the first Test in Auckland
Brian O’Driscoll was the former Lions’ legend to present the match-day squad with their jerseys for the first test in Eden Park.
A four-time Lions’ tourist, who played in all four series from 2001 to 2013, the former Ireland and Lions captain was a poignant as well as inspired choice, given how his series as captain in New Zealand a dozen years ago was ended a minute into the first test by the infamous ‘Speargate’.
Presenting the test jerseys has always been viewed as a hugely significant honour, not least for the pivotal first test, and aside from being an entirely fitting choice as an iconic former Lion, the selection of O’Driscoll by Warren Gatland, and O’Driscoll’s willingness to do so at the squad’s hotel in Auckland last night, underlines the powerful spirit of the Lions.
It also emphasises the extent to which any residual ill-feeling arising from Gatland dropping O’Driscoll for the decisive third test in Sydney four years ago has long since ebbed away. Gatland was also the man who picked O’Driscoll for his first of 141 test caps against Australia in Brisbane in 1999. Indeed, O’Driscoll won his first 20 Irish caps under Gatland.
His wondrous solo try in his first Lions test against the Wallabies in Brisbane in 2001 confirmed his world-class status on the global stage, and prompted the Lions supporters to serenade his abilities with ‘Waltzing O’Driscoll’. While his 2005 tour was cruelly cut short, he played the first two tests in South Africa in 2009 and again in 2013.
One can only imagine how inspiring it must have been for Peter O’Mahony and the other Irish players in the squad, but such is O’Driscoll’s status as a Lion as well as being Ireland’s greatest ever player, that the sight of a more recent Lions icon presenting the jerseys would have resonated with the entire squad.
For example, when Owen Farrell was asked for his first memories of the Lions, he said it was the first test in Brisbane 16 years ago. “The first one would be Drico’s try in Australia in 2001. That would probably be my earliest memory of it.”
In the modern era, that also serves to highlight what an inspired choice O’Driscoll was to present the jerseys.