Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: We'll beat the All Blacks sooner or later - O'Driscoll

Ireland rugby captain Brian O'Driscoll during the Ireland team's training session held at Onewa Domain, Auckland. Photo / Brett Phibbs.
Ireland rugby captain Brian O'Driscoll during the Ireland team's training session held at Onewa Domain, Auckland. Photo / Brett Phibbs.

Saying Ireland will beat the All Blacks sooner or later isn't the greatest rallying call, but Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll says his side should enjoy the challenge rather than fear it.

He is right, the Irish will only break their 107-year drought if they express themselves, but whether they have the personnel to achieve it remains to be seen.

The loss of tighthead prop Mike Ross after he failed to recover from a hamstring strain, will hurt the Irish scrum, coming as it does on top of Paul O'Connell's absence from the tour due to injury.

Tighthead prop Declan Fitzpatrick from Ulster, who is making his debut, is likely to come under fearful pressure. He is up against All Blacks loosehead Tony Woodcock, an 83-test veteran.

And yet, O'Driscoll, widely admired around the rugby world for his character as much as his ability in the midfield, lives in hope.

"We've said it for a few years, at some stage in the future, whether it's this year or next year or in 20 years' time, that some time an Irish team is going to beat the All Blacks before the world implodes and we just have to try to make it now rather than waiting for our kids or our kids' kids to make it happen," O'Driscoll said.

"It's always an enormous challenge and one you always look forward to. Obviously, you're playing the world champions in their first game after rightly winning the crown so it's a huge challenge but also a huge opportunity.

"I've managed to tick off a lot of boxes along the way with the Irish side in beating the other southern hemisphere nations, obviously beating Australia in the southern hemisphere last year, but this has eluded us. I think that speaks volumes for the challenge and the enormity of what is in front of us."

Ireland's other new cap is Munster wing Simon Zebo, who at 22 is the youngest player in the Ireland squad.

O'Driscoll, 33, has been an outstanding player for Ireland and the British and Irish Lions and is the one player in green who is consistently world-class. Fortunately for rugby supporters, he is no mood to call it quits in the near future.

"People are always in a rush to retire you when you get a certain age. I'm 33 and the body feels good at the minute. I'll keep listening to that as to how much longer I'll go," said O'Driscoll, who added he could follow in the footsteps of 37-year-old Brad Thorn, a recent teammate at Leinster, and just keep going.

For O'Driscoll it is an opportunity to test himself against the best - he spoke of his admiration for Conrad Smith and Sonny Bill Williams - in what is likely to be his last tour of New Zealand.

He missed the Six Nations tournament due to a shoulder injury and is relishing playing again after what feels like an "eternity" since the World Cup. His partnership outside second-five Keith Earls from Munster is a new one.

Fergus McFadden starts on the right wing in a back three that includes Zebo and Rob Kearney at fullback, while Jonathan Sexton starts at No 10 and is partnered by Conor Murray.

In the forwards, Dan Touhy will make his first start for Ireland in the second row, after making his debut against the All Blacks as a replacement in 2010.

After naming his side, coach Declan Kidney said he didn't know a lot about new All Blacks Brodie Retallick, Aaron Smith or Julian Savea, but added: "Look, no bad player has ever played for New Zealand, we know there's going to be quality right throughout, we just have to find out the skillset of the person coming in and see how we can offset it."

Ireland team for first test against New Zealand at Eden Park, Auckland, on Saturday:

Rob Kearney, Fergus McFadden, Brian O'Driscoll (c), Keith Earls, Simon Zebo, Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray, Jamie Heaslip, Sean O'Brien, Peter O'Mahony, Donnacha Ryan, Dan Touhy, Declan Fitzpatrick, Rory Best, Cian Healy. Reserves: Sean Cronin, Ronan Loughney, Donnacha O'Callaghan, Kevin McLaughlin, Eoin Reddan, Ronan O'Gara, Darren Cave.

- APNZ

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