BRIAN O’DRISCOLL IS bearing the scars of international rugby.
His right eye is darkened and his brow crossed by stitches. The real painful points, however, are not visible from the outside.
His calf has sidelined him for most of this season and will again curtail his involvement in training this week. Not that he’s about to let that hold him back from one last tilt at the greatest challenge in rugby.
“This calf has slowed me down a little bit,” lamented the 34-year-old yesterday, “it’s kept me out for longer than I thought.”
“That’s not any excuse for not playing brilliantly. It’s just one of those things, I’ve managed injuries in plenty of other games.”
“I was feeling it a bit at the weekend, but I managed to see out the game – there’s a lot of time I haven’t played 100% fitness, but all going well – if I handle it well this week – I shouldn’t be far off 100% this weekend.”
Once he’s mentioned the brief outbreak of wound-licking after the lessons doled out by Ewen McKenzie’s Wallabies, one ideal shapes every other sentence from the former captain’s mouth. It’s not belief or bullishness. It’s simply the goal to have a result worth fighting for with 10 minutes remaining -to be given a chance at doing what no other Ireland team has achieved.
“With our track record against New Zealand, there’s no point in saying, ‘we’re going to go out there and win it’” he says with refreshing honesty. “We’ve got to put ourselves in a position where we can win the game.”
O’Driscoll’s candour is a sign that this Ireland camp certainly won’t be deluding themselves as to the size of the challenge that awaits. New Zealand, the All Blacks to their friends, are 80 minutes away from ending 2013 with a 100% winning record of 14 wins from 14.
Now, perhaps the world champions would instead enjoy 13 wins in ’13. Or maybe deputy out-half Aaron Cruden will suddenly wilt under the hot lights of Lansdowne Road and the pressure of standing in for the injured Dan Carter.
None of that sounds very likely, of course, but Ireland are dealing with ifs and buts this week.
“Like all sides, you can catch them on and off day and you can have a great day yourself. It is possible and it happens in sport the whole time. Granted, it hasn’t happened for us against the All Blacks, but it happens.
As the final curtain of his career draws closer with each passing game, every weekend brings up at least one ‘last’ or ‘final’ experience for BOD. There are not many feats that O’Driscoll has to imagine achieving rather than just delving into his memory bank for, but beating New Zealand is the only new accomplishment he can still add to his CV.
“It’s definitely one that has eluded me personally. Any Irish side I’ve been involved in, any Lions side I’ve been involved in, haven’t’ been able to beat the All Blacks.
“It’s something I would dearly love to do, but that’s the beauty of the really tough victories: they’re hard fought, the ones you really remember. We know what a big battle we have on our hands to achieve that. It’s about building for the whole week to get to that.
He adds: “You have to realise that the next time you play against them that chance [to win] can occur. We’ll put ourselves in the same position training-wise as we do every week in going and treating this as a game we can absolutely win.”
But Brian, do you really believe that this Ireland team can beat the almost flawless All Blacks?
“Of course, I’m the eternal optimist,” he says with his stitched eyebrow raised.
“No one will give us a chance, but that’s okay with us.”