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O’Driscoll: Full Steam Ahead For First Test

O’Driscoll: Full Steam Ahead For First Test

Ireland captain Brian O’Dtiscoll believes the British & Irish Lions are ‘in a far better position’ to challenge for Test series honours than they were at this stage four years ago in New Zealand.

If selected to play South Africa on Saturday, Brian O’Driscoll will make his fifth Test appearance in a Lions jersey and first since he dislocated his shoulder against New Zealand back in June 2005.

O’Driscoll has oozed class this season for Leinster and Ireland and he played an influential part in the Lions’ recent victories over the Golden Lions and Sharks.

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The 30-year-old centre maintained a watching brief for the wins over Western Province and the Southern Kings and now well rested, he is itching to return to the pitch with the Springboks in his sights.

Of course, he was a key member of the Ireland sides that beat South Africa at Lansdowne Road in 2004 and 2006 but achieving the feat on Springbok soil and as part of a four-nation selection is another challenge altogether.

Writing in his Guardian column, O’Driscoll is quietly confident ahead of the first of three clashes with the reigning World champions.

“People may be writing us off, but all I can say is that we are in a far better position than we were at this stage in New Zealand four years ago,” he said.

“There is no question that this is a better tour to be on. The squad has moulded itself into a very tight-knit group, we all support each other, and no one is putting himself before the group.

“You always worry about how you will get on when players from four countries get together, but a week into this tour I just knew that we would hit it off.

“That said, this week will provide us with our biggest test. When the team to face South Africa is read out to us this week, there are going to be 21 very disappointed guys.

“How they manage that is going to be crucial to how we get on against the Springboks in Durban, but I am confident, and I could be one of the disappointed guys, that no one will lose sight of the reason we are here – to win the Test series.”

O’Driscoll feels the Lions have the ability to cause the ‘Boks some serious problems and the unity shown so far, especially in those close, hard-fought wins over the Cheetahs and Western Province, will stand to them over the coming weeks.

“The Springboks are the World Cup holders, they have a settled squad and their confidence will be high after the Bulls won the Super 14 in some style,” he explained.

“We know the size of the task we are facing, but equally we know what we are capable of.

“A key feature of this tour is that every single player has been given the opportunity to stake his claim for a place in the Test side.

“That is all you can ask for as a player on a Lions tour and it is one of the reasons why we have forged such a strong bond.

“There are not two camps, just the one, and it has been interesting as a veteran of two previous campaigns to see how this tour has unfolded.”

Veteran as he may be, O’Driscoll has never experienced what it is like to be part of a Test series-winning Lions side.

After the highs of the Grand Slam and Leinster’s Heineken Cup success, tasting victory in South Africa would be a particularly sweet way to cap off such a superb season for the Dubliner.

To do so with a group of players who have obviously gelled so well and made life-long friends would make it even more special.

Giving a glimpse into life in camp, O’Driscoll said: “At the start, you only really know the players from your own country. As far as the rest go, you wait to find out who are the wind-up merchants, the practical jokers, the extroverts and the quiet ones.

“We have a typical mix, but there are still times when someone is talking to me and I am not sure whether they are on the level or trying to put one over on me.

“Donncha O’Callaghan is the best at winding up, although Andy Powell is not far behind him, and Euan Murray treats us to a joke at the start of every day – a side of him that I did not know until this tour.

“That is one of the great things about the Lions. You get the chance to know guys you normally come up against only on the pitch not just as players but as men.

“The focus has changed this week as the first Test draws near. Training has intensified and the countdown is on. We couldn’t be in better shape as we look to maintain our winning run and take the Test series.”