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

Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada