Ultimate magazine theme for WordPress.

Lions Tour: Brian O’Driscoll on going to war with the Springboks in 2009

Twelve years on, Brian O’Driscoll still remembers the scenes in the run-down waiting room at Pretoria Hospital. A queue of Lions players gathered for treatment. Heavily bandaged limbs, blood loss and broken bones.

First up in the operating theatre was Adam Jones, who had suffered a dislocated shoulder. Gethin Jenkins was next, waiting to see a specialist about his fractured cheekbone and Tommy Bowe had an X-ray on his elbow.

O’Driscoll arrived separately with his fellow centre Jamie Roberts. All battered and bruised by South African muscle. ‘When you looked around and saw how many people were in hospital for specialist check-ups, you realised the magnitude of the physicality,’ recalled O’Driscoll. ‘I was dealing with a fuzzy head but it was a pretty downbeat place.

Former Lions star Brian O’Driscoll has looked back on bruising encounters with South Africa

‘The physicality was a real throwback to yesteryear. We lost both props and both centres to injury and it just felt really old school. Every shot in that game was so tough, so physical and so uncompromising. In that kind of combat, you had to find another level. It was gladiatorial.

‘At half-time, the adrenaline’s still pumping and you don’t really feel it. You’ve always got knocks and bruises but they don’t come to the fore until a couple of hours after the game, or even the next day. I was 30 then and I was starting to feel it a bit more. The body felt battered and on top of that I had my concussion. I was ruled out within 24 hours. My cousin Barry O’Driscoll said, “You’re just not up to those kind of collisions”.’

To this day, the second Test at Loftus Versfeld is one of the most punishing Tests rugby has ever witnessed. Jenkins had a plastic plate inserted into his face, O’Driscoll was ruled out of the tour and Jones’ shoulder was eventually manipulated back into its socket. It is safe to say they were not ready for the team safari on the Monday, with the three players all flown home early.

South Africa were unrepentant. Lock Bakkies Botha was banned for two weeks for the shoulder charge that ended Jones’s series, before his team-mates wore ‘Justice 4 Bakkies’ armbands the following week. Their head coach, Peter de Villiers, defended flanker Schalk Burger for eye gouging Luke Fitzgerald inside the first minute with flippant remarks about ballet and tutus.

O’Driscoll admitted he was taken aback by the ‘uncompromising’ physicality of the Springboks

The Lions suffered a number of injuries due to the unrepentant style of South Africa 

‘They were trying to get crazy physical with us from the off,’ said O’Driscoll. ‘I remember Bismarck du Plessis standing over me in a ruck and pretending to throw punches at me. We don’t need a rehash of the Burger incident but he got away with blue murder. If that happened now, it would be a sending-off. There’s more scrutiny now, there’s more cameras and there’s better guarding against those incidents.’

Despite losing the match — as well as the series — the Lions rolled with the punches. When Kyle Sinckler was called up by Warren Gatland last month, the prop referenced the battle of Pretoria as a fixture that ignited his love for rugby. He even referenced O’Driscoll’s crunching hit that left Springbok lock Danie Rossouw unable to stand back up.

‘The thing about people that try to bully you is, once you stand up to them and bully them back, they settle down,’ said O’Driscoll. ‘That’s how you get their respect. If you succumb to that, they’ll never respect you. You’ve got to give as good as you get.

‘When I’m going to take on a second row, I’ve got to catch them off guard. I’ve got to pre-empt where the collision is going to be and hit them before they see an eyeline of me coming in. If we both see it equally, there’s only going to be one winner. I had to blindside Rossouw, not let him see me coming and launch myself as hard as I could. It was about trying to make a mark and set a tone.

He urged the Lions not to allow the Springboks to bully them in their upcoming tour

He warned Warren Gatland’s side of their ‘monstrosity of a pack’ that could overpower them

‘That Springbok team in ’09 — Bakkies Botha, Victor Matfield, John Smit, Jean de Villiers, Jacques Fourie — were all big, uncompromising guys. Even though I got concussed and went off, I look back on it very fondly. It was great Lions rugby. Yeah, it would have been better if we’d managed to win or draw. But we were a tight group and there were no passengers. It was probably my favourite tour.’

Over the years, the Springbok formula has not changed. Illegalities have been stamped out, but the mantle has now been passed on to the likes of Eben Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Damian de Allende, who still possess the same original strands of DNA.

‘The Springboks still do that physicality best,’ said O’Driscoll, speaking on behalf of Land Rover, an official sponsor of the Lions Tour to South Africa. ‘It’s their game and they’ve honed it for years. When they get it right, they’re unplayable.

‘Their coaching ticket, Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber, are priming the team to bring a physicality the opposition can’t deal with. They’ve not played a Test match since the World Cup final so they’re not going to be playing a big, elaborate wide game plan. They’re not going to play like Japan. They’ll do what they do best. You have to roll your sleeves up and be ready for combat.’

Land Rover is an Official Sponsor of the Lions Tour to South Africa. Keep up to date with Land Rover’s Lions Adventure @LandRoverRugby #LionsAdventure

Land Rover is an Official Sponsor of the Lions Tour to South Africa. Keep up to date with Land Rover’s Lions Adventure @LandRoverRugby #LionsAdventure

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.