I'd rather not be a Lion than lose in Oz… After three torrid tours, Ireland legend
O'Driscoll says winning really IS everything
00:05 GMT, 19 December 2012
Brian O'Driscoll has no hesitation in turning an old sporting maxim on its head. It’s about winning, not just taking part.
Ireland's convalescing captain has no appetite for merely representing the Lions, he wants the series win which has eluded him.
The 33-year-old king of centres is recovering from ankle surgery and hopes to return to action with Leinster in early-to-mid January. Beyond that, he has his sights on leading his country into the Six Nations. Then and only then, the Lions tour to Australia next summer will loom large on his radar.
Leading light: Brian O'Driscoll is in the frame to be British and Irish Lions captain once again
But even at this stage of the season, his thoughts about the 2013 crusade under Warren Gatland’s command are clear. His ambitions are set in stone, certainly the one which overrides the rest.
O’Driscoll has already done the full cycle of Lions trips — to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. He has savoured the occasions for their own sake, now he wants the prize. He has no desire to be a loser left with the consolation of more caps and tarnished memories.
‘It’s not a matter of just making a Lions squad,’ he said. ‘If you said, “You can go on the trip, but you are not going to win the series”, I would have no interest in going. The only reason to go on another Lions trip would be to win the series — to do something I haven’t done before.
‘I’ve been to Australia before, I’ve seen the places, it’s great. But I can go on my holidays and do that. It’s all about winning the series. I have one Lions victory in six Tests, which isn’t anything to shout about. I don’t want to go on four Lions tours and win none of them. People don’t remember losing Lions tours, they only remember winning tours.’
O’Driscoll acknowledged that his own mindset is a reflection of his status as a veteran who has been there and done it all as a Lion – almost. ‘Different guys will go at different stages of their careers and some will go with the excitement of the trip, but I’ve had that,’ he added. ‘I just want to win one. We need to win one. They are wonderful trips, but they are unsustainable if the home nation always wins.’
Wizard of Oz: O'Driscoll burst onto the scene with the Lions during the Tour to Australia in 2001
In his view, the challenge is greater now for the hastily-prepared tourists than it ever was but O’Driscoll is adamant that the squad who head Down Under have it in them to beat the Wallabies.
After all, he was part of the team so agonisingly denied by the Springboks in 2009 — suffering narrow defeats in Durban and Pretoria before winning the finale in Johannesburg without the Irishman, who had gone home injured.
Four years earlier, O’Driscoll was captain, but his series against the All Blacks amounted to less than one minute before he was brutally spear-tackled by Tana Umaga and Keven Mealamu in the first Test in Christchurch. Now, his name is once again being mentioned among the potential skippers.
If asked to take on leadership duties again, as only the second man after Martin Johnson to land the job twice, he would do so, while mindful of the burden that goes with the role.
‘It would be impossible to turn down the opportunity if I was asked to be captain again,’ said O’Driscoll. ‘It’s too great an honour to contemplate turning down, but there is a lot of pressure on the Lions captain. Having been captain on a tour, then toured when I’m not captain, it is very different.
Ill-fated: The Irishman led the Lions in New Zealand in 2005 but was injured after just one minute of the first Test
Agony: O'Driscoll was carried off after a shocking spear tackle by Tana Umaga and Keven Mealamu
VIDEO: The shocking spear tackle on Lions captain O'Driscoll
‘It was a lot more relaxing just being another player, I was able to enjoy it, there was less scrutiny. It is tough, being captain, but you have to try to enjoy it and just be yourself. Whoever does the job this time, he has to use the leadership group around him. Your captain needs to be starting in the Test team, and it is difficult to say at this stage that there is anyone in Britain and Ireland who is guaranteed to be starting.’
It was on the Lions tour to Australia in 2001 that O’Driscoll burst to wider prominence with his try-scoring contribution to victory in the series opener in Brisbane. But he had already announced his Test emergence with a hat-trick for Ireland in Paris in 2000. His Test debut came at the age of 20, as abundant promise was recognised by the-then national coach — Gatland.
Knowing the Kiwi so well, O’Driscoll is convinced the Wales coach can galvanise the best of British and Irish into a winning combination.
‘Warren has earned his stripes, with Wales at the World Cup last year and coming off the back of that with a Grand Slam,’ he said. ‘He has won two Slams with them. He has also been successful with Wasps, then went back to New Zealand and won an NPC, so he deserves that Lions role. Gats is a confident guy. He will instill a belief in his team and he’ll get them in the right place to win the series.’
In vain: The centre was brilliant in South Africa four years ago but the series ended in defeat again
In time, O’Driscoll will give careful consideration to his plans, to the tricky decision about whether to retire at the end of this season or play on. Even though he relishes the daily fun of being a ‘33-year-old kid’, he knows that the next World Cup in 2015 is beyond him, but the Lions tour certainly isn’t. When he is back in action, he will set about reminding Gatland of his enduring class, but with a view to winning in Australia, not just taking part.
Brian O’Driscoll was speaking on behalf of HSBC. As proud Principal Partner of The British & Irish Lions on their tour to Australia next year, HSBC is offering all customers an exclusive 30% discount on the official replica Lions jersey at https://store.lionsrugby.com/discount
VIDEO: Kevin Quigley's photoshoot with O'Driscoll