O'Driscoll tackle controversy gives Umaga the Blues


Heard the one about the Lions, the Kiwis and the elephant in the room?

For Tana Umaga and Brian O'Driscoll, the last 12 years have been intermittently dogged by lingering memories of an unsavoury start to the 2005 British and Irish Lions Test series in New Zealand.

Less than a minute into the first Test of the eagerly anticipated series between a star-studded travelling party and the best team in the world, Umaga and Kevin Mealamu joined forces to spear-tackle O'Driscoll, leaving the Ireland star on the sidelines for the rest of the trip with a dislocated shoulder.

Despite being in an exclusive group of players to have taken part in four Lions tours, a testament to his longevity in the game and enduring quality, O'Driscoll's relationship with the prestigious representative team, externally at least, remains closely linked to his status as the victim in that notorious incident. 

Speaking to Omnisport last month, the 38-year-old, who retired in 2014, expressed a fervent desire for the topic to be forgotten when his successors take on the All Blacks in the coming weeks.

"It's the situation in my rugby career I can't get away from," he said.

"I want this tour to pass by so it can be buried and we can kind of move on from it."

O'Driscoll is not the only one to be haunted by the controversy, with Umaga's role as joint-perpetrator arguably the northern hemisphere's defining image of his stalwart international career. 

The 44-year-old is now the coach of the Blues, who will go up against the Lions in a tour game on Wednesday.

There was no chance his pre-match news conference could pass by without the media attempting to open up those old wounds, leaving a testy Umaga grateful for a careful initial line of enquiry about his general memories regarding the significance of a visit from the Lions.

"I knew we were going to talk about '05, but that wasn't the question I was expecting. Thank-you for that," he said.

"[It was] something very special. But that was back then. It's a different group now. It's all about 2017 and the 2017 Blues squad going up against them."

Questioned directly about whether any hostility is likely to remain among the supporters who are following the Lions in New Zealand, he said: "That's 12 years ago, and if people can't put that behind them, then I suppose they never will. 

"It's about this group now, their time against the Lions and the memories they make. Hopefully they're positive ones."

As the probing continued with a request for his specific memories of the incident, Blues star Sonny Bill Williams interjected on behalf of his coach, saying: "Let's just leave it alone, mate."

Umaga added succinctly: "That will be a no."