Brian O’Driscoll says he is “fresh” and ready to play in whatever game Joe Schmidt deems fit, but admits that he would love one last crack at the All Blacks.
O’Driscoll had been out of action since the middle of September with a calf injury but trained in the past week, and Schmidt said on Thursday he felt the celebrated centre could line out against Samoa in the first of the November internationals.
The 34-year-old took some time off last night for his testimonial dinner in Dublin but is very much focused on kick-starting what has been a truncated season to date, with just 73 minutes of playing time.
“This year is a big year for me,” O’Driscoll declared. “It’s going to be the last one so I want to enjoy it as much as I can. The testimonial will be about the end but I want to be able to live out that last seven or eight months and take as much from it as I can.
“It’s nice to read nice things from your coach. He’s the one that picks the team and he’s gonna be the one that has the say as to whether I play in what game. I feel really fit, I’ve worked hard the last five or six weeks I’ve been out. I haven’t been sitting on my hands. I might lack a little bit of match fitness but I’ll certainly be fresh.”
It remains to be seen just how much game time Schmidt could give the Leinster man against the Samoans, given the subsequent dates with Australia and New Zealand.
O’Driscoll has a chequered history with the Kiwis, with the infamous spear tackle by Kevin Mealamu and Tana Umaga putting an end to his Lions tour in 2005 — when he was skipper — within seconds of the first test.
He has gone close to recording a treasured win over them but only has one more opportunity to do so now.
“It’s the one I’ve never managed to achieve. It’s the last-chance saloon for me on that, so it’s all or nothing.
“I don’t know if a one-off game could be a career highlight in comparison to winning a Grand Slam but it would certainly be a close second (if we could win).”
The nations last met 19 months ago, when the All Blacks handed a 60-0 thumping to the Irish in Hamilton’s Waikato Stadium.
Ironically, that result came just seven days after Ireland wasted a wonderful opportunity to nab that first ever win, losing 22-19.
The subsequent annihilation won’t have any bearing on the upcoming meeting however, says O’Driscoll.
“We let ourselves down back then but you can’t dwell on those sort of occasions. When it goes against you sometimes, it really goes against you. I don’t know if we’ll necessarily use the anger from that. It’s a new team, a new coach and a new philosophy so we’ll treat things very differently this time around.”
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