By Alan Dymock
THEY STARTED out as Six Nations enemies, but since the 2009 British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa, centres Brian O’Driscoll and Jamie Roberts have been spilling over with man-love for each other.
“You’d like to think we can resume a partnership that’s more effective this time around,” Roberts said of his buddy Drico. “I think his communication on and off the ball is something I learned a lot about in 2009. Every call he makes is 99% the right one, and when he speaks people listen.”
If it sounds like Roberts is fawning, so is the rest of the world. Tim Horan, who is the go-to former player turned pundit Down Under, reckons that O’Driscoll is nailed on to start the first Test. In the former Wallaby centre’s eyes, there is a straight fight between Roberts, Manu Tuilagi and Jonathan Davies to deputise in the middle.
However, O’Driscoll has been vocal about how much he enjoys activities with the burly Welshman who was Man of the Series in 2009.
Talking about Roberts, O’Driscoll said: “We played four games together on the 2009 Lions tour of South Africa, including the first and second Tests, and gelled straight away.
“Jamie is a strong ball-carrier, has good offloads and distribution and tremendous defence. As I’ve [also] said about Manu Tuilagi, there are a lot of layers to Jamie’s game so I’m really looking forward to us working together again.”
He may be acting pragmatically, mentioning Tuilagi, but if O’Driscoll is indeed right 99% of the time, Warren Gatland will be more than willing to listen to him.
This weekend Roberts and Davies start in the centres against the Waratahs as part of a team several experts are suggesting is close to a Test side.
Perhaps it is an audition, with O’Driscoll now bubble wrapped. Much has been made about Simon Zebo and Sean Maitland running to prove themselves this Saturday with Tommy Bowe out and George North struggling with a gammy hamstring and maybe the centre selection is as open.
If Roberts comes through this weekend impressively and injury free he should be the favourite to become O’Driscoll’s side-stepping brother. Having Tuilagi or Davies rolling off the bench is a very strong place to be.
Much may come down to how the Lions plan to return kicks, shape their defence and look to get the ball in O’Driscoll’s hands, but Roberts looks like the favourite to share top billing with the Irishman.