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No need to press World Cup panic button, says O'Driscoll


Glory: Ireland’s World Sevens qualifiers
Glory: Ireland’s World Sevens qualifiers
David Kelly

By David Kelly

Breaking news from the other side of the world: Brian O'Driscoll has made a playing comeback. At one stage, he even attempted the ingenious pass to himself that was once unfurled amidst an awestruck RDS audience all those years ago.

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"The mind was willing but the wheels were not," smiles O'Driscoll after a Hong Kong run-out with former Wallaby George Gregan and a clutch of fellow forty-somethings.

"Two-and-a-half-hours, at least there were rolling subs!"

Youth is irretrievable; he marvels at Tullamore's Jordan Conroy and the pace he brings to Ireland's attempts to graduate to the higher tier of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.

"Jordan is amazing. He's our Perry Baker or Carlin Isles. Just give the guy ball in space and he'll do damage. They're in good shape."

O'Driscoll may be watching the same game here, but it's a different sport.

"There's so much excitement, shorter games lend to a carnival atmosphere and you can come and go rather than sitting down for an entire 80 minutes. And because it is end-to-end any team can beat anyone else, it all adds extra excitement. Genuinely, 10 teams can win here.

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"That tends not to happen in a World Cup where there have only been four winners. You don't know what it is going to happen and that's the beauty. It's easy on the eye and easy for an occasional viewer to understand a simplified version of the 15s game.

"In Ireland, I'm sure David Nucifora (IRFU Performance Director) sees an opportunity for young guys coming out of school getting the chance to perform on the big stage, developing their fitness and their skill-set and perhaps feed it through to the 15s."

Ireland's XV side have their own ambitions with Japan beckoning and, on Six Nations evidence at least, theirs may be faltering.

But O'Driscoll insists: "I'm not panicking like some people are. I don't think the approach has changed to be honest. The detail has been a little bit off, the injuries have been costly, particularly Devin Toner. The lineout has malfunctioned a bit and as a result our launch hasn't been good and we normally score a lot of tries from there.

"Our passing hasn't quite been there in previous years. Some of our key players haven't hit their form and that has a knock-on effect for the rest of the team.

"So there are three or four things that are going against us, but can be rectified pretty quickly. We're not suddenly back to square one.

"We'll be in a good position once we don't get any more serious injuries like Dan Leavy. But we do rely on one or two individuals to steer the ship."

The charge is that as other teams advance so too must Ireland; perhaps borrowing from the Sevens template, seeking space, not brick walls.

"The game is always evolving and new aspects come into vogue and you have to adapt to stay ahead of the curve," concedes O'Driscoll.

"We do back or skill-sets to play the game on our own terms, like kicking from the '22'. Perhaps we need to revisit that a small bit. Another area we didn't have much recent success, because other teams focused on it, was in the air.

"We were winning more than our fair share, but our percentages have dropped off and that comes from pressure, the opposition rushing kicks, the accuracy of our kicks and wingers not getting up and winning those 50-50s.

"So all those little moments lead to a surge in pressure and that's why we have struggled in the big matches, especially against England and Wales.

"But we don't need to reinvent the wheel. We've lost three games in 23 or something like that, it's a phenomenal record and we shouldn't forget that.

"There needs to be a reality check from everybody. England was disappointing, Wales really so because we really got out-played, out-thought and out-muscled. But if we played them again in the next two weeks, the results wouldn't go the same way."

He dismisses another theory that return to provincial duty has liberated a group that is restricted and restrained in the Ireland camp.

"There are no issues in the Ireland set-up.

"People are trying to fabricate stuff, but it's nonsense.

"They are very confident in their own abilities, they feel they are not a million miles away from clicking.

"They are as frustrated as anyone else that they haven't been able to hit the lofty heights of that new Zealand game, but it is difficult to hit those standards every time. That New Zealand game was quite exceptional. And it's a standard that we haven't hit very often in the course of our history.

"Even if we hit a rung or two below that they'll be happy, they'll feel they're getting there.

"They'll be unhappy defensively and positionally, so there will be tweaks in defence and attack. But they are only tweaks, so no need for radical change in personnel or anything like that.

"There's no need to press the panic button."

Brian O'Driscoll is a HSBC ambassador for the HSBC World Rugby Sevens.

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