Peter Bills: O’Driscoll can live dream the Leinster way
Was Brian O’Driscoll’s public disclosure this week that Ireland can challenge for the Six Nations title, a subtle coded message to coach Declan Kidney?
The Irish captain made the statement, and perfectly justified it was too, at the launch of the RBS sponsored tournament, in London.
But O’Driscoll added a rider to that bald statement. His added words were to the effect, IF Ireland play to their potential.
Now that might not seem like any revolutionary talk on the part of the Irish captain. But when you examine his words, it is tempting to suspect that a particular viewpoint was at the back of O’Driscoll’s mind.
“We had a reasonable November series — we won two and lost two,” he said.
“Plenty of other sides did better than us but we're quietly confident that if we get our game together we'll be in the hunt in some capacity.”
But a lot has happened to O’Driscoll and several of his fellow Irish internationals since November. With Leinster, they have seen at first hand the very real possibilities opened up by a coach willing to embrace completely the possibilities of the new law interpretations.
It’s fair to say that Leinster, under New Zealander Joe Schmidt, have adapted to the new possibilities better than any other side in Ireland or Britain. Maybe France, too.
Leinster under Schmidt have been a sensation and you can bet that players like O’Driscoll have loved the fast, attacking, innovative style of the team. Players have played with their heads up, looking for support runners and off-loading at crucial moments so as to ensure continuity and flow in movements.
But O’Driscoll, like all of us, must have a major question nagging at the back of his mind. Will Ireland, having seen the success of this style at Leinster, try to play the same way? Or will Declan Kidney’s team be more cautious, slower, more predictable and conservative?
If they are, will Ireland really be playing to their full potential? I’d suggest the answer is no.
Now nobody is being silly here, and saying or believing it is easy or straightforward to transplant Leinster’s playing style into the international arena without the slightest difficulty. It isn’t and it can’t be.
The defences are better organised at this level, the tackles so much harder. Any mistakes are punished with far more ruthless precision.
Nevertheless, it’s not impossible. Look at what New Zealand and Australia did in the Tri-Nations tournament last year in the southern hemisphere.
A side cannot just flip a switch and play like that overnight. But the point is, will Ireland try? Will they attempt to emulate Leinster’s example? After all, several players in the Ireland squad are from Leinster and have already proved themselves comfortable with this system.
That is a significant step forward in terms of embracing such a style. And Ireland cannot deny that in several other key players, the likes of Ulster’s barnstorming, fast flanker Stephen Ferris, they have men able to understand what is involved in this ‘new’ style game and adapt quickly.
With Munster in decline, it would seem inevitable the bulk of the Irish side will come from Leinster. Isn’t it perfectly feasible to believe they should try to employ much the same playing style at international level as they have performed so thrillingly in the Heineken Cup?