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Will It Be Lucky Number 13 For O’Driscoll?

Will It Be Lucky Number 13 For O’Driscoll?

Brian O’Driscoll will need no reminding this week that his record as an Ireland player against New Zealand reads: played 12 and lost 12. There was also the injury-ruined first Test in Christchurch during his captaincy of the 2005 British & Irish Lions.

Roll on eight years and Brian O’Driscoll is in his last season of professional rugby, a year of much promise but one which has suffered a slow start owing to a niggling calf injury.

It has meant that the lynchin centre has only played one game for Leinster in the current campaign and his game minutes with Ireland amount to 142 in the GUINNESS Series – he did not finish the opener against Samoa or the disappointing reversal to the Wallabies.

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Not the ideal way to prepare for the visit of World champions New Zealand, but it is matches like this one the 34-year-old will miss the most when he finally hangs up his boots.

So, after those dozen defeats in green, will it be lucky number 13 on Sunday for O’Driscoll? Whatever happens during the sold-out Aviva Stadium clash, he is determined to make the most of his final encounter with the All Blacks.

Asked about his approach to this weekend’s game, he said: “I don’t know whether it would gnaw at me (not to have beaten New Zealand during my career)…it’s very hard to answer that, but I’m not going in with a defeatist attitude.

“I’m going into it believing a win is a distinct possibility, to do everything you can to prepare yourself for giving yourself a good chance. Reflection is for when you’re not playing any more and I’m not a reflective guy, certainly not now and I don’t know even if I will be in time.

“But I can’t think of it not being a great chance, a great opportunity, all you can ask is for these opportunities, you’re never guaranteed any more than that and this is just one more and for me it is my last opportunity (to beat the All Blacks).

“I don’t think it motivates you any differently, it just probably serves as a reminder out on the pitch that if you’re struggling at some point, that you realise there are no more goes after this, maybe that inspires you a little bit, maybe it picks things up, maybe you get to a ruck or need to make a tackle.

“It’s one that has eluded me, that any Irish side I have been a part of or any Lions side that I’ve been involved with haven’t managed to beat the All Blacks and it is something that I would dearly love to do.

“That’s the beauty of those really great victories – that they’re hard-fought, they’re the ones that you really remember. We know what a big battle we have on our hands to achieve that so it’s about building for the whole week to get to that point.”

As mentioned above, O’Driscoll has been having his own battle with a calf injury of late – he tore it earlier in the season with Leinster – and it also caused him some trouble against the Australians last weekend.

However, he feels he will be back to full fitness or close to it in time to face New Zealand – a team he has gone close to beating with Ireland in the past.

The near misses include that 22-19 loss in Christchurch in June 2012, two 10-point reversals on the 2006 and 2008 tours and the 15-9 defeat in Dunedin back in 2002.

If Ireland have come close before, this particular fixture has also provided Irish rugby with some dark days and the sides’ last meeting in June 2012 saw the Kiwis beat Ireland by a record margin (60-0).

O’Driscoll is looking for Joe Schmidt’s current crop to produce the sort of performance that will well and truly banish memories of that Hamilton nightmare.

“I’m sure it (the Hamilton game) will be mentioned, yeah, because the All Blacks will have had some plays in that game that they would more than likely have scored against us, so you can’t ignore what happened.

“Again, people would feel the last time we played them that we embarrassed ourselves and we can’t allow it to happen at home.

“It shouldn’t happen anyway but certainly never at home. That’s why we have to give everything in the game and hopefully all of our accuracy and all of our planning, our set piece and other small aspects of our game will come together to produce the performance we are looking for.”

Form-wise, New Zealand will be heavy favourites to add to their list of records by becoming the first international team to go through a calendar year with a perfect 100% record – they are chasing their 14th win from as many Tests.

But O’Driscoll insisted that Ireland will set out to make that task as difficult as possible for them, predicting a strong reaction from the hosts after such a poor display against the Wallabies.

“To a man, we are all disappointed with how we played in some aspect (or other) of the game last Saturday,” said the Dubliner, who is poised to join his good friend and Irish record holder Ronan O’Gara on 128 caps this weekend.

“So, to try to put that right and the huge challenge of taking on the World champions I think puts it all in perspective as to how much we need to get better.

“A lot of people came (back) into camp on Monday night licking wounds. When you go about seeing and realising the errors of your ways in a game, injuries aside, it gives you an opportunity to be able to move forward, a look at opportunities that were missed and left out there. With a new week brings fresh hope.

“I think people have gotten over that initial 48 hours of disappointment. It is just another chance this weekend to try and prove ourselves. But we did let ourselves down individually and collectively.

“A lot of the stuff that happens out there, happens in hundredths of a second, so you’re trying to think back to scenarios where you had absolutely no time to make decisions.

“When you do look back on it – when you’re living in the moment – sometimes it looks very different. It is frustrating when you do look at video footage.”

O’Driscoll added: “The realisation is that we need to play with maybe a little bit of anger this weekend and make sure we are not lacking any ambition and any hunger that perhaps wasn’t there last Saturday.

“I think the anger part is anger in ourselves, knowing we’ve performed well below par (against Australia). That’s an annoyance or an anger and different people will use that as motivation to get it right.

“For me it’s definitely a motivating factor…I like to think I have standards of a certain level and if you dip below them the next time you pull a jersey on you have to put that right, and that’s this weekend.”

Of their final opponents in the series, Ireland’s record try scorer has been impressed by what he has seen of New Zealand this year – highlighting their speed both on and off the ball and their passing and breakdown skills.

“I think there has been a real increase more recently in the tempo and speed in which the All Backs play the game. I think they back themselves on that front,” he said of Steve Hansen’s side.

“You see the speed of getting to the ball that has been kicked out of the play, the speed at which their lineout goes, they are always playing front-foot football and they back themselves from a fitness point of view but they are a vastly skilful team right across the board.

“You have got props that can throw 15-metre passes right into the breadbasket of the next guy running onto it so you see these guys at this level being technically very good too.

“They are so efficient in the breakdown, they are only clearing with two guys and one ball carrier. That probably leaves 12 to play or organise. Not many teams can do that and that is probably one thing that sets them apart.”