British & Irish Lions
O'Driscoll relishing return to Lions colours
June 1, 2009
O'Driscoll finds reason to smile as he trains with the rest of the squad in Johannesburg © Getty Images
The sold-out Ellis Park clash will be the Ireland skipper's first appearance for the elite tourists since his 2005 tour was so brutally ended by a Tana Umaga-Keven Mealamu spear tackle just two minutes into the first Test against the All Blacks that left him with a dislocated shoulder. But O'Driscoll, who led Ireland to the 2009 Six Nations Grand Slam, has played down the significance of the occasion.
"For me it is not really about trying to put the wrongs of that right," he told a press conference to announce the starting line-up for the Lions second tour outing. "It's just another opportunity to play in a Lions jersey.
The 30-year-old has timed his run back into the Lions frame with perfection this season. Aside from propelling Ireland to only their second Grand Slam, and first for 61 years, the talismanic centre played a pivotal role in Leinster's quest for European glory that ended with their first Heineken Cup crown.
But he remains hungry for more success and the energy within the current Lions squad has re-energised him.
"It's very exciting putting on Lions kit every day because you know you've got to bring you're 'A' game to training because you will get shown up very quickly if you don't. And that makes you better as a player and you learn more every day. I think this is an environment where you learn a huge amount from your peers and that's training alone. I'm really looking forward to pulling on that Lions jersey again and I'm delighted to be able to lead the team out, it is a huge honour."
O'Driscoll cemented his place amongst the world's best players with a telling contribution to the 2001 tour to Australia that included a superb try against the Wallabies in the first Test. Sir Clive Woodward would later honour him with the captaincy for the 2005 tour to New Zealand that sadly ended so acrimoniously.
Selection for the Lions class of 2009 followed after a stand-out season for province and country that also saw him claim the Six Nations Player of the Championship award.
"I suppose I've just been on the pitch a bit more," said O'Driscoll when asked for the key to his resurgence on the field. "I think I've played 24 games this year, and touch wood for the most part I have been injury free. This year I played in all five Six Nations games, no hamstring issues, and you're able to get continuity in performance which counts for a huge amount. Put it down to that and enjoying my rugby - that's a big aspect.
"I always hoped I would get on this Lions tour and the captaincy aspect was something that was out of my hands. Geech went with Pauly [Paul O'Connell], which in my mind is a good a bet as anyone and I'm delighted to step in and lead the team in Paul's absence. Hopefully there will be plenty of others there to help me do it. It's not just a one-man job, you need to look to experienced players and players in key positions to lead the team as well and looking at the team sheet I'll have that in abundance."
O'Driscoll had to watch from the stands on Saturday as the Lions stumbled to a 37-25 victory in their opening clash against the Royal XV and is determined to raise the bar against their Super 14 rivals on Wednesday night.
"I was frustrated for the boys because they were trying so hard and a lot of passes just didn't stick and there were little uncharacteristic errors that you wouldn't expect from the guys," said O'Driscoll. "From that end we have an opportunity this Wednesday to improve on that, cut out those errors and put those wrongs right. There's no master plan to it, just try and play a controlled simple game."
Despite a faltering display, O'Driscoll insists that the Lions will be a better side for the game. "The boys weren't firing on all cylinders on Saturday but we managed to drag a victory out of it," he said. "There's something in that and it is always important to take the positives out of a game like that - and it was a tough game too."
The Lions were offered a lesson in the power of clinical teamwork by a rampant Bulls side on Saturday night as they destroyed the Chiefs in the Super 14 final. Many of those players are expected to be wearing the Springbok on their jersey come the Test series with the Lions but O'Driscoll insists that there are also plenty of confident winners in at McGeechan's disposal.
"Winning does become a little bit of a habit and if you can infect the squad with that then that is fantastic," he said. "If you look at this squad, there are Heineken Cup winners, Grand Slam winners, Premiership, Magners League and World Cup winners - people know how to win and it's just a matter of building momentum."
With one victory, albeit an unconvonving one, the Lions are moving forward but are some way short of the momentum required to upset the Springboks. If one man is to inspire great leaps in faith and performance over the coming weeks it is O'Driscoll.