Brian O’Driscoll insists he will not be on a mission to right any wrongs when he lines up for the 2009 British and Irish Lions.
PA Sport reports that Ireland’s Grand Slam captain leads the Lions at Ellis Park on Wednesday night – four years after a shocking spear-tackle left him with a dislocated shoulder inside two minutes of the opening Test match against New Zealand.
O’Driscoll, who was brutally driven into the Christchurch turf by All Blacks Tana Umaga and Keven Mealamu, exited the tour on a stretcher.
But the 30-year-old is now set to launch his third Lions trip by taking over leadership duties from rested tour captain Paul O’Connell.
And he will run out against the Golden Lions at the peak of his powers, having inspired Ireland to RBS 6 Nations and Grand Slam glory, then helped Leinster land their first European title.
“For me, it is not really about trying to put the wrongs of that right,” said 2005 Lions captain O’Driscoll, reflecting on his ill-fated trip. “It is just another opportunity to be out playing in a Lions jersey.
“Not until you get back playing again from any injury can you really forget about it and put it behind you.
“It’s not so much the incident itself, it’s just the injury that happened. A dislocated shoulder is going to keep you out for a long time, so once I was back playing everything was behind me.
“I always hoped I would get on this Lions tour. It’s exciting every day putting on Lions training kit because you know you have to bring your ‘A’ game to training. If you don’t, you get shown up very quickly.
“I think I have played 24 games this year, and touch wood, for the most part, I’ve been fairly injury-free.
“Those sort of factors make a huge difference, and you are able to get continuity of performance, which counts for a huge amount.”
O’Driscoll’s potential worth to the Lions cannot be quantified.
He is a proven match-winner and offers a pivotal midfield presence for the tourists in their quest to rock world champions South Africa and repeat the famous 1997 Test series triumph on Springbok soil.
“Brian has had a great year,” acknowledged Lions assistant coach Warren Gatland.
“He looks as if he is really on top of his game, and he is very important to us. You can tell his class in the environment we have.
“He may only play a couple of games before the first Test, and we are conscious of looking after him given the fact we don’t have a lot of cover in the midfield positions at the moment.
“It is up to the forwards to do a good job, get on the front foot and deliver some quality ball to take the pressure off him.”
O’Driscoll takes charge of a team showing just three survivors following the laboured 37-25 victory over an unheralded Royal XV in Rustenburg last Saturday.
Wing Tommy Bowe, centre Jamie Roberts and flanker David Wallace remain, although neither Bowe nor Roberts would have started had injuries not omitted Luke Fitzgerald and Riki Flutey from head coach Ian McGeechan’s selection plans.
Fitzgerald is recovering from a chest infection, but England centre Flutey’s knee injury has sufficiently concerned the Lions for him to require a scan.
McGeechan said: “Riki has a pull behind the knee. He’s gone for a scan, so we’ll know the extent – or not – later.
“He felt a little tweak at the end of the game on Saturday, no more than that, and James (Robson, Lions doctor) felt it was important to scan it and make sure there is nothing serious there.”
Four players will make their Lions debuts – full-back Rob Kearney, wing Ugo Monye, lock Nathan Hines and flanker Tom Croft – while six other newcomers, including fit-again forwards Andy Powell and Stephen Ferris, feature on the bench.
And five of the substitutes who helped turn around an alarming 25-13 deficit in Rustenburg by sparking a late points blitz, win promotion.
O’Driscoll added: “When you look at this squad, there are numerous European Cup winners, Grand Slam winners, Premiership winners, Magners League winners and World Cup winners.
“It’s just a matter of building momentum.”
Super 14 side the Golden Lions are without Springboks Jannes Labuschagne and Heinke van der Merwe due to injuries.
Lions coach Hans Coetzee, though, can still call on South African international fly-half Andre Pretorius and his fellow Springbok, prop Lawrence Sephaka, as key components of the team.
McGeechan, meanwhile, will soon welcome Wales wing Leigh Halfpenny to his squad.
Halfpenny remained in Cardiff for intensive treatment on a thigh injury instead of flying to Johannesburg with the squad eight days ago.
But Lions manager Gerald Davies said: “We’ve been monitoring Leigh’s progress. We’ve had encouraging and positive news all along the line.
“And the news we’ve had today is good enough for us to call him. He can come on that plane as soon as he can manage it.”Tweet