Belfast Telegraph

Brian O'Driscoll adamant the British Lions still have all to play for in Sydney

By Conor George

Brian O'Driscoll's response to the disappointment of Saturday's second Test loss to Australia is simple – play better, play smarter.

Typically this was O'Driscoll, the ultimate professional, taking a detached and objective view of Saturday's dramatic loss. He knows that the Lions, and he personally, can and must play immeasurably better if they are to win this series.

O'Driscoll has dismissed any suggestion the Lions are destined to suffer the same fate as the tourists of 2001 when they also lost their one game lead advantage and ultimately the Series – the first of O'Driscoll's four Lions' Tours.

"People talk about the momentum going with the team that wins the second Test, and I would have agreed with it in 2001 because it was a comfortable victory they (Australia) had," said O'Driscoll.

"But the way the two games have gone, with two points in the first one and one point in the second one, it shows how tight it is between us.

"I think the team that turns up on Saturday and gets some momentum from early in the game will get the upper hand."

O'Driscoll has been channelling his own experiences from 12 years ago to emphasise to the players the importance of not taking anything for granted on this tour.

He's also been using that experience to help tailor the squad's mental preparations this time around.

"I wouldn't go and say there is anything particularly we did 12 years ago ... it's simply a case of getting the details right and then saving your energy for the pitch.

"I don't think there is a huge amount new we are going to learn about ourselves or about the opposition at this stage, so it is just about trying to be clinical when we do get the opportunity to take the pitch."

The squad enjoyed a rare day off yesterday after relocating to the Noosa vacation resort on the Sunshine Coast. The decision not to go straight to Sydney from Melbourne has raised eyebrows in some circles but O'Driscoll believes it was the right decision.

"Historically it is the fifth week, or the week of the second Test, which is the most difficult one," said O'Driscoll. "It is an opportunity for those players who don't get selected in the second Test and have played on the previous Tuesday to go off tour a little bit.

"You have to have the chance to switch off for 24-48 hours away from rugby, even on Lions' Tours, and when the time comes to get back on the park and into team meetings and talk about rugby we will do exactly that.

"The general message is that it's still all to play for. They have been two incredibly keenly contested games. Both of them should probably have gone the other way than they did, and it now culminates with a winner takes all on Saturday. There is disappointment and you have to have a little bit of a mourning period after any loss, but the spirits of the guys have been picked up.

"This (Noosa) has given us the opportunity to unwind a little bit to build up again for Saturday."

The scenes after Saturday's match captured graphically the extent to which Test matches that are so intense and so demanding take a toll of players.

The emotional release for Australia at the final whistle sparked extraordinary scenes of celebration.

It was exaggerated by the manner in which they lost that game in Brisbane, the cruel way fickle fate took a hand and Kurtley Beale failed with two late opportunities to reverse the result from the kicking T.

So when they stood under their posts and watched the remarkably consistent Leigh Halfpenny line up that final penalty in added time they must have endured moments of numbing tensio.

That was evident seconds later when the kick fell short, the whistle blew and they knew they had survived.

Little wonder then that team captain James Horwill broke down and was seen to cry with relief. The sense of fulfilment and achievement can only have been overwhelming. O'Driscoll acknowledged the draining effects of the emotional build-up and then the final deficit when the whistle blows.

The Lions played on that when so much emphasis was laid on securing a win to reward the senior players and especially O'Driscoll himself and Paul O'Connell after stellar careers.

O'Driscoll counselled against allowing sentiment over-rule cool and clinical judgement. He stressed that the Lions needed to be more pragmatic and more calculated in their approach if they are to win this week's deciding Test.

"You can't let the emotion take over," he counselled.

"You have to have a certain amount of emotion in all games and in games where the stakes are as high as they are this weekend that has to come into play. But I think accuracy is vitally important. Both teams lacked accuracy on Saturday at times.

"There were some unforced errors from both sides, and to string phases together you have to be accurate.

"We struggled to play multi-phase at times, and you have to do that against good defences.

"And we didn't really give ourselves chance to build any momentum because we compounded errors with more errors."

As ever O'Driscoll is less concerned with the past and more focussed on what the side can do to avoid a repeat of last Saturday's disappointment so as to ensure victory and a first Series win since 1997.

"We just have to be able to look back, regroup, realise where we went wrong and try to plug those holes for next time," was his simple message.

Drico's thoughts on...

The Breakdown: "There were silly turnovers at times, and they managed to string phases together. That was a huge part of why we lost the game in the end. You can only soak so much pressure."

Referee Romain Poite: "He's kind of a no-nonsense referee. He just likes to be left to referee the game the way he does. I don't think communicating with him too much during the game often has a bearing on what happens. You are not going to change his mind."

The toll of playing two Cup finals in a week: "There is always a mental toll in games of this magnitude. Thankfully, you do get seven days to try to get over one game and have the building process for the next one. You would hope that within a week you would be able to forget the negative parts to the game you played and think positively towards what you are going to do, and incorporate into your game plan, for the following week."

Playing same opposition three weeks in a row: "It's mental as much as it is physical, and all the more so when you play opposition three weeks in a row. It doesn't become a chess game, but you definitely get to know each other an awful lot more and you are almost anticipating certain things to happen. There is an element of trying to out-think the opposition."

The possibility of changes to team: "I suppose that is the coach's prerogative, to identify what he feels the team that goes out on the weekend is capable of. It's about getting the balance of combinations with guys that haven't played too much rugby or guys that are just flagging a little bit."

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