Brian O'Driscoll has laced up his boots for the first time since retiring to take part in the England Sevens team’s infamous ‘Death Zone’ training session, writes Simon Collings.
O’Driscoll, who hung up his boots in 2014 after a glittering playing career, now primarily works as pundit on television and radio.
However the 38-year-old put that to one side for the day to understand the torture rugby sevens players go through to get in shape for the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, which starts tomorrow in Dubai.
O’Driscoll trained with the England Sevens team and took part in their gruelling ‘Death Zone’ training session.
As part of the workout the former Ireland captain was forced to take part in an incredibly tiring training match, where essentially the ball is never dead.
Unsurprisingly, O’Driscoll admits he was exhausted by the end after experiencing a level of fitness much different to his playing days.
“I was just trying to get through the warm-up,” said O’Driscoll, who works as an ambassador for HSBC Sport. “It was hard work and I was blowing through that.
“Then you get into it. It is three three-and-half minute segments of ball in play, and even when you score there is no rest as another ball comes live 70 metres up the pitch. So it is just unrelenting.
“For me it was about testing whether I could get my brain to go to a place I used to be able to go.
“I thought I switched off when I finished playing and I probably clarified that point, because you have to be able to get to such a dark place.
“To be able to delve that deep and mentally be that strong, it takes a unique person and a unique athlete that is capable of doing that.
“I don’t know many XV’s players that are capable of getting into that level of zone.”
The ‘Death Zone’ training session gets its name from a term climbers use to describe the altitude at which breathing is almost impossible and even the simplest of tasks become unbearable to complete.
In it players’ heart rates will be at about 85% of their maximum for approximately 85% of the session. Heart monitors clocked O’Driscoll’s at 195bpm.
“You know when you are sucking big ones and you know when your heart rate is right up there, touching up to 190,” he said.
“I am very aware that mine was taking a bit longer to get back to a more traditional heart rate – 100, 120 – bringing it right down to then have another excursion.
“The reality is I couldn’t survive with those guys. The ability to get into the horrible spot – that’s left me. That’s gone with the retired professional and it is very hard to reignite that.
“As much as you convince yourself that the scope of it is there, the reality is it is not. I wanted to get after it – but I just couldn’t.”
Despite all that physical punishment, O’Driscoll has confessed he isn’t against taking the challenge on again to see if he can fair better with a second crack at it.
“I wanted to test myself and see where I was,” he said.
“I think the competitive instinct never leaves you, albeit I certainly downgraded it from my playing days.
“But it is funny, giving it a go once I think I could have a second fist of it a second time around. So who knows? Maybe I will give it another crack.”