If anyone can appreciate just how ferocious the challenge that awaits the British and Irish Lions next month in New Zealand actually is, it is former Leinster, Ireland and Lions great Brian O’Driscoll.
When the tourists last stepped onto New Zealand soil back in 2005, tour captain O’Driscoll lasted less than minute one of the first test against an All Black side keen to lay down a marker.
The victim of a contentious spear tackle from Tana Umaga and Kevin Mealamu, the Irishman suffered a dislocated shoulder and played no further part of the bruising 3-0 series whitewash suffered by the Lions.
Twelve years on O’Driscoll continues to diplomatically dodge the incident and in an interview with The Telegraph over the weekend, the 38-year-old still won’t be directly drawn on the tackle, instead choosing instead to focus on the towering physicality of the world’s top test side.
“They play very physically yeah. Like all teams they overstep the mark on occasion. But none of us is infallible in terms of breaking the law.”
It is this very physicality that has led the former centre to believe that the ten match tour facing Warren Gatland and his extended 41-man squad is going to be a monumentally bruising affair.
“I don’t think the atmosphere is any more intimidating, I think it’s just the intensity and pride they bring to their game. There is a real brutality to it. They are very, very big collision winners. The Polynesian element obviously plays a part. They are big ball carriers and defenders.
“Right across the game, even the provincial teams are stocked with skillful, powerful players. It just runs very deep. That means that the Lions don’t really get any ‘warm-up’ games. So it’s incredibly hard to get the right balance between knitting together and evolving a Test team, and trying to protect your players. It’s a double-edged sword.”
The Ireland great, with over 140 international caps, paints a harrowing picture of what awaits the tourists this summer. With every one of the five Super Rugby sides, plus the New Zealand Maori and the Provincial Barbarians all with an eye on a fresh Lions pelt, O’Driscoll’s comments are just another reminder of the mammoth challenges facing the Lions.
Game one of the tour, against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians kicks off on June 3rd, with the first All Blacks test later in the month, on the 24th.
Gary Brennan, Pundit Arena
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