Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Inspirational O’Driscoll in line to lead Lions

Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll celebrates after his team beat Wales 17-15 in a Six Nations rugby union international match at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Saturday March 21, 2009. Ireland captured its first Grand Slam in the Six Nations for 61 years by beating Wales 17-15 on Saturday. (AP Photo/Tom Hevezi)

Lions head coach Ian McGeechan has flown to Cork for talks with Ireland coach Declan Kidney.

Top of the agenda is sure to be the issue of captaincy.

McGeechan had always planned a post-tournament run-through with Kidney. Given the events of last weekend, those discussions will be rivetting.

Can McGeechan deny the claims of a Grand Slam-winning captain? Can the Lions coach consider bypassing Brian O’Driscoll on the grounds that he had a crack at it in New Zealand four years ago and instead pass the honour on to O’Driscoll’s Ireland team-mate, Munster lock Paul O’Connell?

McGeechan is not afraid of bold calls.

He did his own thing the last time the Lions toured South Africa 12 years ago, opting for the internationally unproven leadership skills of Martin Johnson ahead of Clive Woodward’s England captain, Lawrence Dallaglio.

It proved to be a masterstroke, the Lions standing firm against the world champions to win the series 2-1.

O’Connell is a big man, very much in the physical mould of Johnson in 1997.

McGeechan was taken with the notion then of a looming presence knocking on the changing-room door for the coin toss.

Above all, though, McGeechan wanted a captain respected by all those around him, one who was guaranteed his Test place.

O’Driscoll, of course, fits that bill. For O’Connell’s size, insert O’Driscoll’s presence.

There is little to choose between the two candidates.

Wales’ own Grand Slam-winning captain, Ryan Jones, was a contender but his claims have taken a knock with some hit-and-miss performances, notably in Paris.

It would not pay to dismiss the prospects of former England captain Phil Vickery, a man who McGeechan, not to mention fellow coaches Warren Gatland, Shaun Edwards and Rob Howley, all know well from Wasps.

Vickery has quiet charisma,

widespread respect and is bang in form.

Many expected Kidney to hand the Ireland captaincy to O’Connell when he took over the coaching reins last summer from Eddie O’Sullivan.

After all, he and O’Connell had just been feted the length and breadth of Munster after winning the Heineken Cup.

Instead the man of mild manners but hard-nosed instincts bucked public expectation by leaving O’Driscoll in office, despite the fact that Ireland’s World Cup campaign and subsequent Six Nations Championship had been traumatic.

It was a remarkable bit of management by Kidney. O’Driscoll, plagued by hamstring issues, had been in faltering form.

And now? He is a real competitor once again, restored to health and potency.

He stands alongside O’Connell as one of the RBS players of the Six Nations, sharing top spot in the tournament’s try-scoring charts with England’s Riki Flutey, with four touchdowns.

O’Driscoll has got the best not only from himself, but also from those around him.

Where once there was discord and hesitancy, there is now togetherness and conviction.

It has not been an untroubled journey to the Grand Slam, but it has been a united one.

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