Brian O'Driscoll, the Ireland centre, flew out to South Africa with the British and Irish Lions squad yesterday with praise from Leo Cullen, the captain of victorious Leinster, ringing in his ears. O'Driscoll is on the cusp of completing an astonishing year, having led Ireland to their first Grand Slam for 61 years and playing a crucial role in Leinster's Heineken Cup triumph at Murrayfield on Saturday.
The eyes of the rugby world will turn to South Africa for the first Lions tour there for 12 years and Cullen believes O'Driscoll could be the team's inspiration. "Brian 'O': he's the talisman of our team and has been for so many years," said the second row. "I presume the Lions will look to him as well because he has such a presence about him on the field and in the dressing room. "I suppose he's getting his just rewards for the amount of effort and for the standards he's set for other players over such a long period of time."
The other Leinster heroes Jamie Heaslip, Rob Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald will all be on the plane and their provincial captain backed the quartet to take their form with them. Cullen said: "The international guys have had an amazing year. It was a hell of a long wait for Irish rugby to win a Grand Slam. "Similar to Leinster, there's been a group of players with the Irish team who have been around for a similar period of time.
"They've had some disappointing days and had their fair share of criticism as well. "I think it makes it all that bit sweeter when you actually do come away with the prize at the end of the day. "Pushing on for the Lions, it's another great chance for three very young guys - Jamie, Rob and Luke - but they've had great seasons, all three of them." Geordan Murphy, the Ireland and Leicester back, fears he may never get over the 19-16 final loss to Leinster. "It's always going to be bitter," said Murphy, who equalled the record of most individual final appearances of four.
"We lost in the final in 2007 and that still grates me, so I'm sure this will stay with me for a long time. I can appreciate what it means to the Leinster guys but I wanted more than anything to win for Leicester." * With agencies