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Rugby | Six Nations

Gatland keeps watching brief on O'Driscoll



Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll and England's Chris Robshaw will be two of the players looking to impress British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland when their countries meet in the Six Nations.

Former Ireland coach Gatland, in charge of the Lions for this year's tour of Australia, will be in Dublin on Sunday for a match already being billed as a Six Nations title decider after both Ireland and England won their opening fixtures.

Ireland great O'Driscoll was given his first taste of test rugby by Gatland, currently on sabbatical from coaching Wales, back in 1999 and after his starring role in last week's victory in Cardiff it's clear the 34-year-old's talent remains undimmed.

But injuries have been a problem lately and Gatland is concerned as to whether O'Driscoll, whose time as Lions captain in New Zealand in 2005 was cut short by a spear tackle in the opening minutes of the first test, will be in good enough shape for a fourth tour with the combined side in June.

"The thing with Brian – everyone knows what a quality, world class player he is – it is him holding his body together for that period," Gatland said.

"We are going on tour for six weeks that are pretty intensive. Is his body able to handle that day in day out?

"One of the things I pride myself on is being able to manage players, looking after the experienced players who are important to your squad.

"When he was 20 years old, he had that raw talent, he was incredibly quick and skilful and he was a very much 'get out there and play' kid and there was no pressure on him.

"In 2009 (on the Lions tour of South Africa) I was very, very impressed by his knowledge of the game, his understanding and experience.

"It was good for me to be involved as someone who had picked him for his first cap and then miss all the years in between and then see him as a 29-year-old. I really was impressed with that development."

Meanwhile Gatland reckons Robshaw has "reinvented himself".

Just two months ago the New Zealander said Harlequins loose forward Robshaw was not a "genuine" openside flanker and that he would only consider specialist No 7s for the series with the Wallabies.

However, just a few days later Robshaw led England to a spectacular win over world champions New Zealand at Twickenham and has since maintained the standard he set for himself against the All Blacks.

At Lansdowne Road he is set to be up against Ireland's Sean O'Brien, whom many pundits feel is more suited to playing at blindside flanker.

"Robshaw has done a good job for England and the same could be said for O'Brien with Ireland," said Gatland.

"Players have the ability to reinvent themselves.

"Sometimes it comes down to how players are refereed in different competitions.

"In the (English) Premiership it is a lot more open, with less competition on the ball, so you watch someone like Chris at Harlequins and he doesn't compete hard for the ball because he is not allowed to do so by the referee.

"But in international rugby referees allow that competition for the ball. England have worked hard on that area and they're competing more at the breakdown.

Rival fly-halves Jonathan Sexton (Ireland) and Owen Farrell (England) will also be trying to stake Lions claims.

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