James Lawton: Brian O'Driscoll proves there's life in the old BOD yet as folly of Western Force is exposed by the British and Irish Lions

Allowing the Lions to play exquisite rugby may not be a brilliant strategy

The Lions were right to be indignant about the composition of a team performing so risibly under the title Western Force. Even at their strongest they are regarded as Australia's feeblest Super Rugby challengers so you might have thought they would have had enough pride in both themselves and the 125-year tradition of their guests not to call in nearly half a team of makeweights.

Players, to put it another way, unfit to share the same field as such men as Brian O'Driscoll, Jonny Sexton, George North, Leigh Halfpenny and, come to think of it, more or less everyone who pulled on a red shirt.

O'Driscoll made his case most beautifully. At 34, he is the man who has seen it all and done it all and in the process of scoring two sumptuous tries he reminded us that the more you have done, the more you have seen, the better equipped you are to produce the best of yourself.

Of course, for him the old body does need to hang together for at least a few more weeks as he challenges, along with his young England lieutenant Manu Tuilagi, the compelling Welsh force of Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies. There, if ever there was one, is a combination of strength and perception to place in the most formidable of categories, but then if O'Driscoll-Tuilagi sounds somewhat more exotic it also brings its own force of nature and most serious disruption.

The prevailing theory about the selection that was so brusquely turned into matchwood was that it was part of a cheap conspiracy to starve the Lions of the kind of opposition against which they might sharpen themselves before the opening Test match.

However, despite the two tries mustered by the Force in a couple of perhaps understandably unguarded moments by opponents feeling their land legs after arriving from the other side of the world, the Wallabies HQ and their embattled field marshal Robbie Deans may even now be thinking again.

Allowing the Lions to play some exquisite rugby, which they did with increasingly regularity in the 69-17 victory, and in very much their own time and inclination, is maybe not the masterpiece of strategic thinking it might have appeared.

As their coach Warren Gatland suggested in a voice which carried the edge of a stiletto, what local opposition fails to provide will just have to be supplemented on the training field. There, heaven knows, there will be no shortage of the most serious competition.

The most riveting, surely, is O'Driscoll's last challenge for a place at the heart of the glory. To see him as relaxed as the most accomplished of gunfighters – interacting with the excellent Tuilagi and his brilliantly sharp countryman Sexton – and scoring an opening try of withering certainty after linking up with the gargantuan Welshman George North, was surely to see a master reclaiming some of the best of his past.

When North returned the ball to him, he made for the corner flag with absolute certainty. "BOD", as he is affectionately known, made everything seem so effortless, so formal, and this is a man who will always be best remembered for his willingness to put his body on the line in even the most ferocious circumstances.

He made time and space for himself as easily as the best ones always do. Certainly he could hardly have done more to put country between himself and that ugly, recent day in Rome when he was sent to the sin bin for stamping on an opponent. For all his admirers, the fear was that it might just be the last sighting of a great man – a bad place indeed for all the great work, the relentless battling, the flashpoints of penetrative brilliance, to end.

Now, who knows, it might just have a final expression at the very highest level of the game. Certainly it was not difficult to believe that, whatever the deficiencies of the Western Force, this was a man who had steeled himself for one last statement of both a superior talent and will.

He was hardly alone. Sexton's try was the centrepiece of a performance of consistent subtlety, of the ability to draw defenders into places from which they could no longer defend. He laid traps and then sprang them as though he was flicking the pages of a well-thumbed book.

Jamie Heaslip and Tom Croft operated with a muscular beauty of their own, the Irishman weaving extraordinary patterns and the Englishman taking one hit that might have brought a pause in a charging rhino. He went off the field for entirely precautionary reasons. When you thought of Gatland's other back-row riches, as you had to when the relentless Toby Faletau made a late appearance with the urgency of a fire engine, it was to question all over again the Australian idea that this was a team which might be inclined to fatten its ego on the fodder of poorly fashioned opposition.

And then there was Halfpenny, who brushed so close to rugby history when his huge kick against France in a World Cup semi-final fell so close to the crossbar. There may have been greater kicking feats than his in Perth, but they do not lay irresistible claims on the memory. Halfpenny was 11 for 11 but even such a statistic scarcely does justice to the precision and the nerve of his work.

It was just another mark of the commitment he displayed when his grandfather, a former Swansea player, used to collect him from school and take him to a rugby field. There he kicked beyond the dusk, a habit-forming exercise which had never borne more fruit as he approached every kick, even those from the most demanding angles, with a brusque, unchallenged certainty.

When Gatland was asked to pick out some positives he said that while he had plenty of options, he could not fail to mention the kicking of Halfpenny. That was true enough, even on a day when Brian O'Driscoll, the greatest player of his generation, caught fire at least one more time.

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

Power of the geek Gods

Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

Perfect match

What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high