Brian O'Driscoll: How Irish legend has Indian sign over the English
Irishman has a long and brilliant record against England but, he tells Adam Redmond, victory over them on Sunday will still be as sweet as ever
Wednesday 06 February 2013
In an unbeaten decade of dominance Brian O'Driscoll's capacity to crush red-rose ambitions has eclipsed even the haunting figure of All Black Jonah Lomu in English nightmares. But as the Irishman prepares to stare down England for the 12th time in his Test career in Dublin on Sunday, he offered an insight into the strength of mind which has driven him to victory over the old enemy in every game since 2003 – a record that no one can match in the professional era of the Six Nations.
During his early days in the green shirt O'Driscoll suffered two fierce beatings at Twickenham, where Ireland shipped 95 points in two games in 2000 and 2002, but it was a rose prick in Dublin 10 years ago that would hurt him most.
O'Driscoll's first Six Nations campaign as Ireland captain was in full flight and the scriptwriters had teed up a Grand Slam decider with England at Lansdowne Road. The Dubliner was the face of a new generation of Irish rugby who, unlike their predecessors, were not fearful of the English and they felt their time had come. It had not.
"Absolutely blown away," was how O'Driscoll recalled their 42-6 thumping in 2003 as Ireland were mangled by an England team which would claim the World Cup before the year was out. It was a piercing experience, but since that day O'Driscoll has only felt the satisfaction of victory over England with seven wins from seven. Ireland's only failures occurred when their talismanic centre was injured in 2008 and 2012.
The fields of victory have changed but O'Driscoll has been the constant whether it was Twickenham, the old Lansdowne, Croke Park or the new Irish home at Aviva Stadium. All the time precious milestones have followed. The venue which claims the greatest highs is Croke Park, where his team bulldozed England 43-13 in 2007 before O'Driscoll almost demolished himself two years later by playing on with a concussion to score a try and a drop goal en route to a Grand Slam.
"You think it will go on for eternity and then you realise that's not going to be the case and probably a few years ago I started taking things in a little bit more and remembering the good days," he explained. "You've to celebrate the good days because there are brutal days that make the good ones sweet."
Every year in the build-up to the England game players and coaches within the Ireland camp try in vain to pass this fixture off as a routine Six Nations match, but they are kidding no one. The Irish always manage to find something extra in the tank when faced with 15 white shirts.
"Maybe it's ingrained in our psyche from a young age," O'Driscoll said. "It depends on your parents' attitude when you're brought up as to whether they had more of an interest when Ireland played England in soccer or cricket or whatever or rugby. But for me, it's always been a big game because of the close proximity of the countries, the history between the countries, but largely because of the quality of England and how you want to test yourself against the best sides and invariably they are."
There is "nothing that can prepare you" to face England in Dublin according to O'Driscoll and for that reason he cannot present young players like Simon Zebo, Craig Gilroy and Peter O'Mahony with specific advice as they prepare to defend home turf against Stuart Lancaster's men for the first time.
He will share his own processes and, at 34, O'Driscoll has no issue owning up to a bout of nerves. "I was nervous on Saturday [against Wales]," he said. "It varies, I always encourage being nervous, it sharpens the mind. It's been a while since I've been on the losing side which is what you have to try and remember during the week, what it was you did right in those weeks when you did win."
On Sunday, however, Lancaster's new breed come to Dublin and O'Driscoll is rightly wary of a team which has displayed more potency than any England team he has dispatched since '03.
"They are playing with a good bit of confidence, they look like they've got good clarity in how they want to play, the intensity of their game with Scotland and in November against the All Blacks seems to be significantly raised from previous years," he added. "I would imagine it will be a very, very physically demanding game."
In that regard Ireland will be severely tested again this weekend after piling up an astounding 176 tackles in the win over Wales last weekend and, with Manu Tuilagi fit for action, O'Driscoll could be in for yet another bruising 80 minutes.
But even though he will give up close to three stone on the Leicester centre, O'Driscoll remains certain rugby nous and his relationship with centre partner Gordon D'Arcy (their 48th tandem last weekend broke a Test record) will prove the deciding factor in midfield.
"[D'Arcy] is the best defensive centre that I've played with. He offers a lot more, he's been there for many, many years and seen a lot of situations – not that we have a case of telepathy but we don't always need to speak to one another to understand the body language and what each of us are doing.
"The thing about good teams is they use big-ball carriers as good decoy runners to exploit that space, so I imagine they have the smart players to do that, so it's not just a case of keeping an eye on Manu or who might play in that role."
After last week's admission in a BBC interview that this Six Nations campaign might be his last, the Leinster centre has been peppered with enquiries about what time frame he has set himself. However, he prefers to live for the moment, which he hopes will lead him back into a Lions shirt this summer. And that is not good news for England.
"Would I love to be involved in a winning tour? Absolutely," he replied when asked if he had unfinished business with the Lions, having been a part of three losing tours. "I understand that the Six Nations is a means to that end and if you can get this bit right then you give yourself more of a chance of being involved in the summer. It's an honour to be among the top 35 players in the home nations so you do everything you can, it's definitely an added incentive in a Lions year to get your performances to as high a level as you can."
England's executioners: How O'Driscoll ranks
Top win ratios v England (For players who have played over 10 games against England):
Player/Win ratio %
JPR Williams (Wal) 100
Dan Carter (NZ) 90
Francois Steyn (SA) 90
Gareth Edwards (Wal) 83
Gerald Davies (Wal) 80
Brian O'Driscoll (Irl) 73
Jean de Villiers (SA) 73
Bryan Habana (SA) 73
John Hayes (Irl) 70
O'Driscoll v England
Won as captain 7
February 2000 Loses 50-18 at Twickenham in first Test against England.
October 2001 Ireland's 20-14 victory ends English Grand Slam hopes.
March 2003 Captains Ireland in Grand Slam decider, but loses 42-6.
March 2006 Scores winning try in 19-13 win in Lansdowne Road finale.
February 2007 Leads Ireland to emphatic 43-13 victory at Croke Park.
February 2009 Try and drop goal help Ireland win first Grand Slam in 61 years with 14-13 win.
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