Brian O’Driscoll fully expects to see mercurial out-half Quade Cooper trot out to stare down the Lions in Australia although the prospects of Kurtley Beale doing likewise look less favourable given the Melbourne Rebel has been suspended again.
The versatile Beale has been ruled out of tomorrow’s Super Rugby fixture against the Blues in Auckland due to what has been termed a breach of behavioural guidelines just one match into a return from a suspension incurred for an earlier incident in South Africa.
Cooper, for his part, was recently omitted from a two-day Wallaby camp called by coach Robbie Deans with whom he has had well-publicised issues, but it is symptomatic of Australia’s abundance of riches behind the scrum that even the absence of both men – and the injured Berrick Barnes — would not be deemed fatal to their chances of a series win.
In James O’Connor, Australia possess another operator capable of brilliance at the pivotal 10 spot, even if he hasn’t always been used there by his country, and O’Driscoll clearly believes Warren Gatland’s tourists will be opposing an exceptional ‘five-eight’ and more besides regardless of who fills the jerseys.
“They have got a lot of options,” said the Leinster and Ireland centre yesterday in his role as an adidas ambassador.
“O’Connor needs to fit into the back line with Israel Folau now as well and there is the new guys who are coming through like [Jessie Mogg) the full-back from the Brumbies. All these guys are going to start pushing for places.
“All of a sudden you have 12 (players) into seven in the backs. You are going to have your staple guys like (Will) Genia, (Adam) Ashley-Cooper and O’Connor is going to be in there. Digby Ioane is going to be in there. Pat McCabe is coming back from injury and he gives them a slightly different type of game, some good go-forward, so they can play a variety of game.”
The party line in the northern hemisphere is more uniform when it comes to the probable make-up of the Lions back division with O’Driscoll one of those favoured to start the opening Test in Brisbane next month.
“We are different types of players (the Lions backs) but that doesn’t necessarily mean any one of us has one type of skill set and the others don’t. We are all good at different aspects but you do look at the form of the centres as being pretty good for guys Manu (Tuilagi), Jamie (Roberts) and Jon (Davies) particularly at the end of the Six Nations.
O’Driscoll’s Six Nations ended in less favourable circumstances of course, what with his sin-binning in Rome and Ireland’s first ever tournament loss to the Italians, but the suspension he incurred has helped maintain his freshness towards the season’s run-in.
He will fly out to Australia with questions as to his intentions beyond the Lions trailing in his wake and he reiterated yesterday that his ability to withstand the intensity of his fourth such tour will play a large part in his ultimate decision as to whether he plays on or calls it quits.
He has spoken to Ronan O’Gara and a number of already retired former teammates about it but gave nothing away yesterday despite almost 25 minutes of enquiries as to his thought process beyond saying that no-one would “put a gun to my head” and that he would dearly love to go out on his own terms.
A Lions series win would certainly qualify in that regard.
“Those games will be tight because the Australians, from the Super Rugby I have seen, are starting to hot up and they will be well organised by the time they come together in June. But looking at that (Lions) squad it is a powerful squad that has a nice balance to it. There is a great opportunity to win a series down there.”
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