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O’Driscoll ‘Hugely Excited’ About Ireland Return

O’Driscoll ‘Hugely Excited’ About Ireland Return

While Saturday’s encounter with New Zealand will mark Simon Zebo, Declan Fitzpatrick and Ronan Loughney’s first steps onto the international stage, Ireland’s long-serving captain Brian O’Driscoll is relishing his return to Test rugby after missing the Six Nations.

Brian O’Driscoll will be back in an Ireland jersey this weekend for the first time since last year’s Rugby World Cup, after undergoing surgery on a trapped nerve in his shoulder.

It will be his 118th senior appearance for his country and an eleventh outing against New Zealand in 11 years. O’Driscoll has never won a match against the All Blacks, including that Lions Test back in 2005, and neither have Ireland in a 24-game run spanning 107 years.

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Feeling fresh, fully fit and relishing the prospect of the three-match summer tour, the centre has plenty of motivation to add that elusive scalp to his already glittering rugby CV.

“I missed the Six Nations so I am hugely excited about putting a green jersey back on,” admitted O’Driscoll, speaking at today’s team announcement press conference in Auckland.

“The last time was during the World Cup and that seems like an eternity ago. You’re playing the World champions, in their first game after rightly winning the crown. It’s a huge challenge but a huge opportunity for us as well.”

O’Driscoll scored a try in both of Ireland’s most recent clashes with New Zealand, the 66-28 defeat in New Plymouth two years ago and the 38-18 home loss six months later.

The summer tour openers of 2002 (15-6) and 2006 (34-23) and the one-off meeting in 2008 – 21-11 in Wellington – were closely-fought games in which Ireland put it to the world’s top-ranked side for long spells.

Although Ireland will take to the Eden Park pitch without the injured Paul O’Connell, Tommy Bowe, Stephen Ferris and Mike Ross, O’Driscoll still leads a potent, higly-motivated team that is determined to rip up the record books.

“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.” he said.

“We just have to try to make it now rather than waiting for our kids or our kids’ kids to make it happen!

“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.”

Head coach Declan Kidney has made seven personnel changes – some due to injury – to the team that lost 30-9 to England in the final round of the Six Nations.

Most notably, debutants Simon Zebo (22) and Declan Fitzpatrick (28) have been included in the starting line-up and another Test newcomer, Connacht prop Ronan Loughney (27), is standing by to make his debut as a replacement.

A number of combinations will be tested for the first time at this level with Zebo, Fergus McFadden and Rob Kearney joining forces in an exciting back-three, and O’Driscoll will pair up with Keith Earls in the centre.

Regarding Earls’ selection over Gordon D’Arcy, Kidney explained: “Three into two doesn’t go. This is the time to grow and see where we are in terms of everything, that is why I have gone for that combination. Gordon is unlucky.

“It’s important that we see things. That’s why I said it’s a tour. Paddy Wallace, Gordon and Brian are continuing and will continue to give fantastic service over the next year or two, but it would be absolutely remiss of me not to look at a few things.

“We said we’d keep a small eye on the future too, and both Darren Cave and Keith are playing well, so at what stage do you mix and match,” he added, with reference to Cave’s nod for the outside back spot on the replacements bench.

“Fergus took his opportunities when there were a few injuries provincially and he’s been with us at the World Cup when Andrew (Trimble) was getting the nod over Fergus for big matches. This time we have gone with Fergus.”

Up front, Ross’ deputy Fitzpatrick gets a chance to impress in the tighthead role and the third Ulster forward in the pack, Dan Tuohy, will make his first senior start alongside second row partner Donnacha Ryan.

It will also be flanker Peter O’Mahony’s second start – his first at blindside – and Kidney is confident that his mobile, athletic back row unit will deliver a big performance.

“(Peter and Sean O’Brien) are both mobile, which is going to be important. This is a tour for players to be on their feet.

“If fellas are lying around here they are going to be of no good to themselves or the team. Being on your feet is going to be 99% of the game here.

“We have to put our best foot forward for Saturday and play the best we can and I believe all the fellas I’ve picked are playing well and deserve a go, but there’s always fall-out.

“It’s fantastic. When you go into sport, no matter what sport it is, you want to play the Rory McIlroys, or the Roger Federers, or the Brazils of this world. It’s one of those ones.”

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