Do Ireland have that ‘dog’ in their team?
That enforcer, that player who plays on the edge, that someone, who if the opportunity arises, will certainly make his impact felt on the opposition.
Many are of the belief that there’s no longer a role for that kind of player in modern rugby. With cameras everywhere, there is little scope to get away with the ‘dark arts’ but it’s a question which is posed to Ireland legend Brian O’Driscoll.
Do Ireland have that? Do Ireland need that?
The 41-year-old sits back, thinks for a moment about the question and recalls some of those he played with in the past who could fit into that category and why they were so important to the success of the team.
“It’s something that I’ve always talked to a couple of coaches about,” O’Driscoll said at the launch of the Guinness Six Nations experiences.
“People think there is less necessity because of cameras and a ‘dog’ isn’t about being a thug, trying to throw cheap shots, it’s about being nasty and physically imposing and that’s why I always loved playing with Sean O’Brien.
“That’s why, whenever he was fit, I wanted to see him in the team, because he brought ferociousness to everything he did. At training, but in particular, in games, I’ve never seen him taking a backwards step and I just wonder, do we have that level, in the best possible way, that ‘thug’ within the team that you want to throw their weight around a little bit and set out a few markers.
“We don’t have it in the second row. We’ve two great athletes but I don’t think it exists. A little bit in Tadhg Furlong and Cian [Healy] but not to the Sean O’Brien or Paulie [O’Connell] or [Denis] Leamy [level].”
In comparison to other international rugby teams, today and throughout history, Ireland generally come up second best when it comes to sheer size.
Now, the average weight and height of a team doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to win in the physicality stakes. Temperament, technique and intelligence play a massive role too.
But when you consider how Ireland were often physically bullied in 2019, particularly by England in the Aviva Stadium and in Twickenham, does a lack of a ‘dog’, ‘thug’, whatever you want to call it, further inhibit Ireland?
In the past, as O’Driscoll mentions, you had the likes of O’Brien, Leamy, O’Connell. These players didn’t come through the pristine modern academies where so many of Ireland’s current squad cut their teeth. Those players of the past were brought up in the rough and tumble of club rugby.
Even in their early years, they would have played consistently against men at least 10 years their senior – a different type of academy setting you could say but one which would definitely prove to be useful.
“It’s something that I’ve thought about. That’s why I loved having Leamy in the team as well. He was softly spoken and very quiet and went about his business but he was an absolute animal. If he could, he’d hurt you and it’s that, where you could get a shot and you’d really [feel it]. It’s about playing on the line, not trying to play [dirty], this is a tough game that we play.
“At international level, if you get an opportunity to set out a marker, don’t miss that chance. Sometimes rather than waiting for it to come people have to go looking for it. That’s sometimes the difference between the real hardy boys and everybody else.”
Despite the nature of everything being picked up by cameras in modern rugby, O’Driscoll still believes that role can still be fulfilled but admits that it’s something that you either have or you don’t.
“Seanie [Sean O’Brien] lived on the edge and he crossed it a few times but it was the ferociousness of everything he did. It’s an attitude thing, it’s ingrained in you or it’s not. It’s a very hard component to develop.”
Pictured on his home home turf in Clontarf, Brian O’Driscoll has teamed up with GUINNESS to launch a host of GUINNESS SIX NATIONS experiences which celebrate a fusion of the six competing nations inspired cultures through events available to the public. The first experience on 31st January, will be a hike along the iconic Howth Head followed by a meal in a local pub, hosted by former on field rival rugby internationals, Tommy Bowe and Thom Evans. Those wishing to secure a spot on the hike should email GuinnessSixNationsExperiences@
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