Six Nations: O’Driscoll heeds the Lions’ roar

Ireland player  Brian O' Driscoll. Picture: Getty
Ireland player Brian O' Driscoll. Picture: Getty
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With all the respect that is due to yesterday’s ties, the eyes of the watching rugby world will be firmly focused on Dublin this afternoon where there is more than just 80 minutes of rugby on offer.

It is only the second round but already there is more riding on today’s encounter than on a Grand National favourite.

The winner will remain in contention for the Grand Slam and will be well placed to take the Six Nations Championship title. Moreover there are mouth-watering head-to-heads across the field that will go some way towards deciding the composition of Warren Gatland’s starting Test XV for the Lions. The Six Nations always throws the odd curve ball and it hasn’t disappointed so far. Which pundit mentioned Billy Twelvetrees as a candidate ahead of last weekend’s opener?

When it comes to the Lions it’s impossible to not to mention Brian O’Driscoll, who has stated on the record that he would like to play and potentially even captain the side again. He has unfinished business with the touring team, a blot on his otherwise glorious copybook. He has travelled with the Lions on three occasions and lost all three series.

After a shaky start his overall record against England is a whole lot happier and healthier. The first time O’Driscoll played today’s opponents in 2000 he was on the painful end of a 50-point shellacking but, after losing his first three matches to the men in white, the last in 2003 to the team that went on to win the World Cup, the centre has not lost to England in his last eight outings. England have beaten 
Ireland just twice in the Championship since 2003 (2008 and 2012) with the quicksilver centre missing both matches through injury.

His head-to-head this afternoon against the hard-hitting Brad Barritt is one to savour. The best attacking centre in the tournament against the best defender, the immovable object against the irresistible force. Only something has to give, with some pointing to O’Driscoll’s battered 34-year-old body as the most likely candidate.

Against all available evidence it turns out that the Irishman is mortal after all. A few weeks back in an interview he mentioned the “r” word but he has been back-pedalling like a clown on a unicycle ever since and he looked far too good against Wales to contemplate hanging up his boots just yet.

Even so, he can see the end is in sight.

“You think it will go on for an eternity,” he said last week. “And then you realise that it’s not going to be the case and, probably a few years ago, I started taking things in a little more and remembering the good days.”

Even in his twilight years, O’Driscoll admits to feeling the nerves and, more than just feeling them, he actually welcomes them like an old friend – “it sharpens the mind”. The man who is entering his 13th season of international rugby still regards the England match as something special, something to be savoured and, he might have added, something decisive this time.

“It’s always been a big game because of the close proximity of the countries but largely because of the quality of 
England and how you want to test yourself against the best sides and invariably they are,” he said.

“They are playing with a good bit of confidence, they look like they have good clarity in how they want to play... I would imagine it will be a very, very physically demanding game.”

O’Driscoll underlined the intensity that England have brought to their last two matches, against the All Blacks and Scotland, because it served them well in those matches.

The Irishman is expecting much the same approach from the visitors this afternoon, a sledgehammer approach from the forwards followed by some quick hands from the quick men as and when the opportunity arises.

Today’s visitors to Dublin’s Aviva Stadium have more weapons than at any time since 2003, when O’Driscoll suffered his last loss to them. The peerless centre knows that, when England find the right blend and a style that suits them, they can be devilishly difficult to stop.