British & Irish Lions can’t beat All Blacks in series, but Billy Vunipola can win them a test: Brian O’Driscoll

The Ireland legend says New Zealand are a different beast at home after running a HSBC Try Rugby coaching session at Chater Garden

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 April, 2017, 7:27pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 April, 2017, 10:50pm

Ireland legend Brian O’Driscoll says he can’t see the British & Irish Lions returning home from their mid-year tour of New Zealand as victors.

However the former Lions captain, in town for the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens, holds out hope they can pinch a test against an All Blacks side he described as “a different beast”.

“I think they can definitely win a test but a series win just seems like a stretch,” O’Driscoll said. “I don’t want to be negative about it but New Zealand are a different beast down there.

“The kick up the backside that they got from Ireland in November and the competitiveness of their provincial teams in the lead up to it, it’s 10 test matches you are playing on that tour, it’s not three.

“Every one is brutal. It’s not like Australia or South Africa where there is a couple of soft touches or you go and run a cricket score up, that doesn’t happen in New Zealand.”

The Lions will play every New Zealand Super Rugby team as well as the Maori All Blacks and three tests in the space of five weeks, with O’Driscoll highlighting England back rower Billy Vunipola as the man who needs to set the tone.

“He’s a powerful, powerful human being,” O’Driscoll said on Thursday after running a HSBC Try Rugby coaching session at Chater Garden with Ben Ryan.

“He is very exciting and it looks easier for him to give go-forward than anyone else. I don’t know him well but I did a small bit of media with him and he’s got a great manner to him and he’s a very likeable guy.

“He’ll lend himself well to that environment and he’s got just the right amount of thug in him, which you need. You need that nasty streak and you can see he’s someone that can flip, I like having them on my team.”

O’Driscoll captained the Lions in New Zealand in 2005, with the infamous Tana Umaga-Keven Mealamu spear tackle ending his tour just minutes into the first test.

While he says he doesn’t look back on that incident with regret, the 38-year-old feels the Lions learnt some valuable lessons as a result of the 3-0 drubbing they received.

“I think we got a few things wrong on that tour with regards to the setup and how a Lions should be run,” O’Driscoll said.

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“I think the Lions have subsequently learned from that. In many ways it was a guinea pig tour on many fronts within the professional era.”

As for the rest of the line-up that coach Warren Gatland will choose on April 19, O’Driscoll is looking forward to seeing England’s Maro Itoje selected but is not expecting any surprises.

“Gatland is going to go back to the tried and tested guys that have done the job for him with Wales and the Lions in the past,” O’Driscoll said.

“New Zealand of all places is a place that you need to bring guys that are experienced, know what it’s all about and are up for the fight because there is not too many frills to be had down in New Zealand.”

The class of Sam Warburton will be rewarded with the captaincy, O’Driscoll said, and the four-time Lion gave some simple advice to the eventual squad ahead of an intense trip.

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“It’s all-consuming, the most of all of them. There is no getting away from it. The public play as if they don’t know what is going on but every last one of them does,” he said.

“The advice I would give to anyone would be to embrace it and enjoy it as much as you possibly can. If you are having fun you are going to play better rugby.”