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House of Rugby

16th Nov 2018

James Haskell recalls first ever encounter with ‘best ever’ Brian O’Driscoll

Patrick McCarry

Brian O'Driscoll

“It’s mesmeric by Ireland’s genius!”

Those were the comments from Sky Sports’ Mark Robson when Brian O’Driscoll left Wasps absolutely stunned, back in 2008.

James Haskell was a regular with Wasps at that stage but just a year into his Test career with England. That European Cup encounter with O’Driscoll was his first ever, on the field of play, and the flanker has never forgotten it.

Haskell joined host Alex Payne and former England star Mike Tindall on House of Rugby – JOE’s rugby show – and recalled being in the presence of rugby greatness on that afternoon.

Referring to Andrew Trimble’s interview with O’Driscoll and Tana Umaga, who were brought together by Guinness to finally quash their 2005 Lions Tour differences, Haskell commented:

“They are two of my favourite players. I love them.

“I’ve met Tana quite a few times and he’s incredible. And Brian O’Driscoll is probably the best player I ever played against.

“I remember that time when I first played against him, at Leinster. He chipped one over the top of Voycey [Tom Voyce] and then went and [kicked it] over and scored. I was like, ‘Right, well, what happened?!”

Credit: Sky Sports

O’Driscoll achieved a huge amount in his career – four Lions tours, a Grand Slam, three Heineken Cups, and more – but he never beat the All Blacks, either with Ireland or the Lions. Ireland finally defeated New Zealand in 2016, at Soldier Field, but are seeking their first ever victory on home soil this Saturday.

Unsurprisingly, in their interview, O’Driscoll tipped Ireland to get the job done while Umaga predicted and All Blacks triumph.

Everyone has a theory on how the All Blacks can be beaten but putting that theory into practice against some of the most naturally talented rugby players on this spinning globe is insanely tough.

The likes of Beauden Barrett, Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick all have win percentages in the 90s and are experts at getting over the line in even the tightest of circumstances. Since losing to Australia at ANZ Stadium, in August 2015, New Zealand have won 40 of the 45 Test matches they have contested.

The British & Irish Lions tested them severely in the summer of 2017 but even they were clinging on at the end, at Eden Park, in order to share the Test Series. Haskell was part of that Lions squad, in New Zealand, and he also featured off the bench in England’s 2012 victory over the world champions, at Twickenham.

Haskell played just under 25 minutes of that 2012 victory over New Zealand and knows full well that teams must keep their foot to the floor if they manage to get a lead on them. He recalled:

“I remember watching it and see us get that lead [15-0 up at half-time] and I thought, ‘This is great, but New Zealand just don’t get rattled’. Whatever you do, don’t take your foot off the gas or they are going to get you.

“[New Zealand score two tries in four minutes] and that was carnage but then Manu [Tuilagi] got that break where he fended everyone and passed it to Ashy [Chris Ashton], who swan-dived.

“I had come on at that time and I remember we were defending by our line for about five minutes then something happened and we got away, and I thought, ‘Oh my God, we’re actually going to do it’. And then it was mental.”

England won 38-21 that day but have lost the next five encounters, including last weekend’s heart-breaking 16-15 loss at Twickenham.

This weekend, Ireland get the opportunity to take a cut off the world champions.

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Episode five sees Alex Payne joined by James Haskell and Mike Tindall to preview England’s clash with Japan, the All Blacks game against Ireland and for both rugby stars to recall their worst ever injuries.