Brian O’Driscoll ‘worried’ by Ireland’s form but sees hope
Ex-captain confident Schmidt and his former team-mates can arrest alarming slide
Brian O’Driscoll: “I think it can be fixed, because I know the personnel.” Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Getty Images
Brian O’Driscoll admits to being “worried” in the light of Ireland’s record defeat by England at Twickenham last Saturday, but backs Rory Best’s captaincy and maintains the team’s problems are fixable.
“It’s always different when you watch a game having known the result,” admits O’Driscoll, having returned home from holidays on Sunday. “You’re kind of waiting for the negativity and after 20 minutes I’m kind of ‘that’s not so bad’, and then it all went downhill after that.”
“It was just a very un-Joe Schmidt like team performance, lacking accuracy, no detail, not looking after the ball – the sort of stuff would be driving him nuts.
“It’s stuff that is fixable, but it needs to happen this weekend too because England dented confidence [in the Six Nations opener], Ireland didn’t ever really get it back and then it got another body blow with Wales, the manner of that performance and result.
“We were okay against Italy without setting the world on fire and then this was a hammering. Confidence takes a massive hit off the back of a string of those results, and you need to get the momentum of that back. It’s not a case of ‘it will be alright on the night’. It needs to happen on Saturday.
“I’m intrigued to see what changes he makes, whether he gives some guys another outing and whether some guys have to wait a second week to get their chance to right the wrongs.”
“I wonder will he play Henderson at ‘6’ and move Pete across to ‘7’, or does Jordi [Murphy] get a chance there.”
While admitting to being “nervous”, O’Driscoll maintains: “I think it can be fixed, because I know the personnel. People talk about the overreliance on Jonathan Sexton. Yes, there is. We need the World Player of the Year playing well for us to go well.”
No less than the All Blacks with Dan Carter four years ago, or indeed eight (when they scraped by) and 12 years ago (when they didn’t) after Carter was injured.
“Exactly. I really think that that is very important to us, and I feel a different level of confidence when I see him in the starting ‘15’, even over Joey Carbery. There’s a comfort that comes with it. Even with the eight months he’s had this year not being at his best.”
O’Driscoll draws not just on his experience of playing with Sexton, but of watching him evolve over the last five full seasons since he retired.
“He can manipulate games like no other ‘10s’ can, because he’s got the experience to do it, and he would have found it very tough last Saturday playing off that ball.
“I felt for Ross Byrne and for Jack Carty because it was really horrible ball to deal with. But he’d have been able to make something of it. So that is vital to any success we might have in the World Cup, whatever that success might be.”
O’Driscoll, understandably, has some sympathy too for the current after the flak directed which came Rory Best’s since Saturday’s defeat, not least in light of his age.
“It’s easy to do that, but to be sure it’s taking his toll. He’s not the athlete that he was. He doesn’t carry the way he once did. He doesn’t even seem to get the same level of turnovers he once did and staying in there.
“So the issue with him is he doesn’t have to be the best player on the park. He doesn’t have to be in the top 13 players on the park, but he has to justify his position, because his captaincy is an asset and an extra element to his game.
“He just needs to facilitate others really performing. So his darts have to be spot on. He has to scrum well and he’s got to hit rucks. And that’s really all that is asked of a 37-year-old after being soldiering as long as he has. And if can sort that bit out then he absolutely justifies being in the team because of what’s behind him, but also because of what else he brings to the side, a cool head in stressful conditions. He just needs to sort out his game and I think you’ll have a much better overall outcome.”
O’Driscoll will be in Japan, working with ITV and in his role as an ambassador for Landrover, from mid-October.
“To be honest with you I’m looking forward to it because I’ll get the chance to actually see a bit of the country and I’ve heard only brilliant things about Japan too. Anyone who has spent any concerted length of time out there has raving reviews about it and how culturally stark it is compared to anywhere else, and that’s exciting. I’ve been downloading podcasts and I’m going to listen to some of those.”
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