Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

O'Driscoll: We have to make it now

Brian O'Driscoll. Photo / NZ Herald
Brian O'Driscoll. Photo / NZ Herald

A masochistic streak may be close to the surface of Brian O'Driscoll's celebrated rugby frame.

The Irish captain is on his seventh tour of New Zealand, heading into his 118th international tomorrow at Eden Park and still without a win against the All Blacks.

While sports historians in Ireland may lambast the curse dating back 24 tests to 1905, O'Driscoll is as frisky as a foal in spring.

The thrill of playing the All Blacks "never lessens any", the classy centre and captain said. It was always one of rugby's great indulgences.

"At some stage now or in 20 years time, an Irish team will beat the All Blacks before the world implodes and we have to make it now rather than waiting for our kids or our kids' kids to see it happen," he said.

O'Driscoll was revved up about playing test rugby once more after missing the Six Nations series with injury. Beating the All Blacks would be on a level just below winning a World Cup.

He will take a side with two new caps, left wing Simon Zebo and tighthead prop Declan Fitzpatrick, into this battle against an All Black side who are blooding three youngsters, Aaron Smith, Julian Savea and Brodie Retallick.

Coach Steve Hansen explained he wanted to start Smith to give him a chance to showcase his skills before using Piri Weepu if changes or his experience were needed.

Retallick and Savea had both earned their chances and their games should cope with the higher level.

"Ireland will come down with the sole aim to win," Hansen said on the eve of the three test series in Auckland, Christchurch and Hamilton. "Australia may have underestimated the Scots and we can't fall into that trap. We have to hit the ground running and running hard."

O'Driscoll may be playing his last tests against the All Blacks although at 33 he does not feel like retirement and noted Brad Thorn's continuing rugby involvement. The Irish captain will be in a midfield duel with Sonny Bill Williams, a player he had watched in the NRL and had watched evolve in rugby.

"He understands the intricacies of union much more now and has a real spark with his offloads and skillset. He has bought into the team-first mentality and has evolved really well because of that."

Conrad Smith was another smart footballer with a low mistake rate.

"You can tell he is a real thinker and a guy who has a big engine on him. He runs great lines and is a terrific player," O'Driscoll said.

The Irish skipper was always trying to refine his game, looking at other players, assessing their skills and adapting some to his repertoire.

"There is no patent on certain players and moves that we play," he said.

He was rested and the five months off after the World Cup allowed most of his ailments to ease and gave him a hunger and appetite to play again, he said.

"When you struggle to get up for a test like this then it is time to hang up your boots. You've got to live in the moment, this is our time, we have to express ourselves."

Irish coach Declan Kidney said the task of playing the World Cup champions in their own backyard for the first time after their triumph was immense.

Some domestic success for Irish sides had given them a winning mentality but the difference between provincial and test rugby was some step.

"We'd be fooling ourselves if we think otherwise," he said.

- NZ Herald

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