Brian O’Driscoll and Tana Umaga write the final chapter of Speargate

For 13 years, Brian O’Driscoll and Tana Umaga have each been fielding questions on “that tackle” for an audience fascinated by the events of the Lions’ first Test against New Zealand which defined the relationship between the two great midfield warriors.

Brian O’Driscoll and Tana Umaga write the final chapter of Speargate

By Cian Locke

For 13 years, Brian O’Driscoll and Tana Umaga have each been fielding questions on “that tackle” for an audience fascinated by the events of the Lions’ first Test against New Zealand which defined the relationship between the two great midfield warriors.

It is true, when Umaga and Kevan Mealumu tag-teamed O’Driscoll into a spear tackle less than a minute into the 2005 series opener in the Christchurch rain, all hell broke loose.

It ended the Lions captain’s tour in an instant, but the dislocated shoulder was a lightning rod for O’Driscoll’s head coach and his spin doctor Alastair Campbell and their decision not to let the matter lie caused ructions, polarising the Kiwi public.

There was bad blood between the central characters, outlined in Umaga’s autobiography a couple of years later before a mending of fences with a conciliatory handshake in 2009.

Yet now, on the eve of another Ireland versus the All Blacks clash, the former captains are hoping the matter can finally, finally be laid to rest.

“We were just chatting about it the other night. I get asked about it all the time,” O’Driscoll said last week as the pair united to talk about this Saturday’s game as Guinness Series ambassadors.

“In any Q&A over the last 13 years, it is probably the one question I can guarantee. It was talked about last year because it was that 12-year (Lions) cycle. We parked it a long time ago.

“It was one of those things. Was it unfortunate? Yeah. Should you have dealt with it slightly differently? Yeah. You’ve got to move on. You can’t bring those sorts of things through life.

“Listen, we’re able to have a laugh and take the piss about it now, properly. Sometimes you don’t get an opportunity to meet up with people in a controlled environment. We see each other at events here and there and have a quick word.

“Actually, to have a get together and chew the fat and properly get to talk and not feel scared by it is refreshing and, I hope, it’s dead after this.”

Umaga concurred, adding: “Exactly, we had a great dinner. That was the key thing for us, to have time together. You pass each other fleetingly at matches and engagements.

“To really sit down and chew the fat around that was great. That’s just part of this game.

“We can’t change the past. Yet, it is something whenever I do something that I get asked about and it is well settled between us, put it behind us. As Brian has said, hopefully this will really put it behind people and we will make peace with it now.”

Umaga, 45, has been coaching Auckland Super Rugby franchise the Blues since 2016 guiding them to a victory over Warren Gatland’s 2017 Lions early into the tour at Eden Park.

The All Blacks also won the first Test at the same fortress but then lost the second in Wellington before the series was tied back in Auckland. For the Irishmen in the Lions side, the victory in Wellington was their second over New Zealand in a matter of seven months after Ireland’s historic win the previous November in Chicago.

Umaga believes those defeats left a deep scar on Steve Hansen’s men.

“You learn a lot from the scars that you get. If you think it was a nick, you can get complacent and see it as just an anomaly. If the scar is deep enough, you get to learn a lot more out of it.

“For us, the first time that it’s happened scars you deeply when you are part of the side that has created history, not the history that you want.

“For me, I would say it would scar them deeply. They want to make sure that they can put things right in their minds.

“I don’t think you can discount what’s happened in the past and how much it means to the All Blacks to do well against the Irish at home, which is going to be tough, because it means a lot for now.

“It also means a lot going forward into next year with the World Cup coming up.”

More in this section

Sport
Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up
IE_logo_newsletters

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox