herald

Friday 28 November 2014

Drico can roar

BRIAN O'Driscoll has been the first man out to Leinster training every Monday, injury permitting, at UCD this season.

Maybe, he has taken the decision to make a Brad Thorn dedication to making his career last as long as possible or maybe, just maybe, he can keep a secret.

There is every chance O'Driscoll will become the first Irishman to lead the British & Irish Lions on two tours, based on Warren Gatland's management team for Australia in 2013.

Gatland predictably pulled Wales backs coach Rob Howley, and England's forwards coach Graham Rowntree and defence expert Andy Farrell from a transparent hat in Edinburgh yesterday. The appointments were as cleanly leaked as the Irish government's Budget plans.

"I am confident that Rob, Graham, Andy and myself can come together quickly to face one of the hardest rugby challenges," reported Gatland.

"Lions tours are unique as we have to mould together players from four different countries in an incredibly short space of time.

"We have no illusion as to the hard work required but we have spoken of the challenges and truly believe that as a coaching team we can provide the players with the support and environment needed for victory in Australia."

Even resident Scottish doctor James Robson has been added to the ticket for his sixth consecutive tour to the southern hemisphere.

That leaves Ireland without a genuine presence on the leadership roster. The current state of Paul O'Connell's back must make him doubtful to compete for a place on the plane, never mind the captaincy.

The Munster second row is a natural leader of men. He was roundly applauded for his captaincy of the 2009 British & Irish Lions' 2-1 defeat in South Africa.

At the moment, O'Driscoll is part of the way through a 12-week rehabilitation from an ankle injury. He is scheduled to be back for rounds five and six of the Heineken Cup.

The Irish captain already holds legendary status in the game for his longevity and his undiminished powers of inspiration as a player who has troubled Australia so many times in the past.

For all the athletic gifts of Wales' Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies, England's Manu Tuilagi in the centre position, there is a definite void in footballing intelligence in attack and defence.

Wales captain Sam Warburton is struggling for form. No Welshman has led a Lions tour party since Phil Bennett was named as captain to New Zealand 35 years ago.

For the eight tours since then, either an Irish or English player has been in charge three times and a Scotsman twice. England captain Chris Robshaw is long-odds to make the Test side.

Ireland have supplied the appointed captains for the last two Lions tours - and they are out on their own in providing the most skippers for the iconic combined team.

O'Connell was the 10th Irish player from 28 tours to captain the Lions and there were four successive tour leaders between 1938 and 1959 - Sam Walker, Karl Mullen, Robin Thompson and Ronnie Dawson - who were all Irish players.

England have provided the captain for eight tours, with Martin Johnson being the only man to lead the Lions on two tours, while the Scots have had the head man on seven tours.

It all leaves Wales trailing far behind with just three captains in Bennett, John Dawes (1971) and Arthur 'Boxer' Harding back in 1908.

The current Wales interim coach Howley has taken his best shot at Australia four times in six months, three times Down Under, with no breakthrough.

Despite the individual brilliance of the Welsh three-quarter line, the glue that holds them together has not been strong enough.

Enter O'Driscoll. The honour of the captaincy would make him the first Irishman to lead the Lions on two tours. It is just one more record he is perfectly placed to break.

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