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'I had to blind Rossouw': O'Driscoll on his famous Springbok tackle

By Sam Smith
(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

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As the British & Irish test series with the Springboks approaches, memories of the brutal second test from 2009 in Pretoria have been relived and scrutinised by players and pundits alike.


A key figure that match, Irish centre Brian O’Driscoll, remembers the aftermath of a defining game in test rugby. Speaking on behalf of Land Rover to the Daily Mail, he recalled going to hospital and seeing many of his teammates waiting for evaluation.

“When you looked around and saw how many people were in the hospital for specialist checkups, you realized the magnitude of the physicality,” he said. “I was dealing with a blurry mind, but it was a pretty bleak place.

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O’Driscoll was involved in skirmishes across the park after Springbok flanker Schalk Burger set the tone after being yellow-carded for eye gouging. He remembers the Springbok hooker Bismarck du Plessis trying to intimidate him on the field, saying if that happened now the game would be stopped.

“They tried to get physical with us from the start,” O’Driscoll said. “I remember Bismarck du Plessis standing over me in a ruck and pretending to kick me. We don’t need a repeat of the Burger incident, but he got away with blue murder.

“If that happened now, it would be a shutdown. There is now more control, there are more cameras and there is better surveillance against those incidents.”

He shared the Lions approach to the game which was to ‘stand up to the bully’ in order to get their respect. That meant playing on the edge to return some fire, giving it ‘as good as you get’.


“The thing about people who try to bully you is that once you stand up to them and bully them back, they calm down,” he said.

“That’s how you get their respect. If you succumb to that, they will never respect you. You have to give as good as you get.

The Lions centre was concussed in a sickening collison with Springbok lock Danie Rossouw in the second half of the game. O’Driscoll shared that he was intentional in his approach in order to ‘blindside’ the big man, coming from the side to hit him as hard as he could without detection, but both players came off with concussion.

“If I’m in the second row, I have to overwhelm them. I have to anticipate where the collision will be and hit them before they see an eye line coming in from me.


“If we both see it equally, there will only be one winner. I had to blind Rossouw, not let him see me coming, and launch myself as hard as I could. It was about making a mark and setting a tone.

O’Driscoll played on after the damaging hit, unthinkable in today’s game with safety protocols in place. Even though his health may have been at risk, O’Driscoll looks back fondly on the game as an example of great Lions rugby.

“That Springbok team in ’09 – Bakkies Botha, Victor Matfield, John Smit, Jean de Villiers, Jacques Fourie – were all big, uncompromising guys.

“Even though I got a concussion and ran off, I look back on it fondly. It was great Lions rugby. Yes, it would have been better if we had won or drawn. But we were a close group and there were no passengers. It was probably my favourite tour.”


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