With the return of the Six Nations this weekend after a two-week break, former Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll is upbeat about his country’s chances of capturing their first Grand Slam since 2018 and equally confident that his recent addition to the Zerofit team will mean no more cold feet while calling the action from pitchside.
‘As an analyst, stadia are such cold places, even when the weather is good it can still be cold especially as you’re standing on concrete. When you can’t feel your feet, you can’t think and for me the combination of the Ultimate baselayer and the Socks are the two key products because cold feet mean cold brain! So, they are the staples,’ says Brian.
‘When it’s cold, the last thing you want to do is look like the Michelin man with four or five layers on when you’re walking the dog, or you’re just out to get away from things with a podcast, that’s where the Ultimate is properly brilliant for staying warm and not being overly layered up,’ adds the man who accumulated 141 Test caps during a stellar career, 133 earned for Ireland with another eight for the British & Irish Lions.
The centre-turned-broadcaster gave credence to the idea that by the end of October there’s the outside possibility that Irish powerhouse Leinster could have captured both domestic and European titles, with the national team winning a Grand Slam as well as this autumn’s Rugby World Cup – a quadruple for Irish Rugby.
‘That is the dream year isn't it! It would be phenomenally impressive if you’re a Leinster player, of which there are many. But it’s not beyond the realms of absurdity is it? It could be achieved. Domestically, there are still some really good teams, the South African teams proved last year they’d be very tricky and then in Europe there’s no better year to win it when you’re going to have a home run in right to the final.
‘The Grand Slam is achievable because Ireland have done some of the really heavy lifting, although Scotland will be difficult and then the World Cup, who knows. You live in hope, right? But so much can happen and we will be heavily reliant on some good fortune with injuries and personnel. But for all four, I’d be interested to see what the bookies would give you on it.’
Ireland head to Rome this weekend in the Six Nations before a trip to Murrayfield to face Scotland, who are also chasing a Grand Slam. England visit the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on March 18, which could make for a memorable St Patrick’s Day weekend.
The current Ireland team is dominated by Leinster players and although the styles of play are alike, O’Driscoll is looking for an improvement from his former province at the business end of the season.
‘Domestically they’ve done very well but have slightly underachieved in Europe over the past seven or eight years with only one victory, and I do think they need to win it this year to really copper-fasten themselves as a superpower – well, I think they are a superpower in the European game – but maybe to become one of the elite couple (of teams). Toulouse are Real Madrid, but it does feel as though Leinster are very much driving standards and the way in which they’re playing, like Barcelona at their best when they were under Pep Guardiola. I think few other teams can play that way and with that intensity, but they’ve still got to prove it on finals day,’ says Brian.
‘From an Irish perspective, what’s happening there at Leinster is being translated through to the national setup and because they’re playing quite similar styles that is obviously very helpful and having that many Leinstermen in the Irish environment. But that’s the cycle of international rugby, whatever provincial rugby is going well, you tend to harvest a similar style, structure and strategy. It happened in the Noughties with Munster and now it’s very much, not necessarily a Leinster philosophy, but when it's that Leinster-dominated with personnel I think naturally you’re going to have that progression of what they’re doing day to day at their club,’ he adds.
O’Driscoll played a highly instrumental role in the Leinster team that won four league titles in 2002, 2008, 2013 and 2014, as well as three Heineken Cups in 2009, 2011 and 2012 – but it was that first European victory 14 years ago at Murrayfield against Leicester Tigers that O’Driscoll cites as his favourite moment in the famous blue jersey. And typically, it was his actions as the clock ticked past the 80-minute mark that helped to seal the win.
‘I was part of the final steal in the ‘09 game on Benjamin Kayser. Hearing the referee blowing his whistle and looking up knowing it’s a penalty for you and the clock is in the red, that was a beautiful moment! I went to grab the ball to kick it out of play only to be pulled aside by then captain Chris Whitaker who said “let’s just be sure it goes into touch and give it Johnny (Sexton)” - it was five yards away! I disappointingly accepted his decision,’ laughs O’Driscoll.
It's been nine years since his final professional game, a victory in the 2014 Pro12 Grand Final against Glasgow Warriors, but while the boots may be firmly hung up, O’Driscoll has lots going on, whether it’s as a broadcaster and analyst with BT Sport, ITV and Off The Ball, or looking at the next project for his production company 3 Rock which he founded alongside TV Anchor Craig Doyle and have already seen two documentaries – Shoulder to Shoulder and After the Roar – come to air on BT. And of course, in his new role at Zerofit.
‘I was excited about what point I’m coming into the business because I feel there’s such huge scope on so many levels going forward for the baselayers as sports equipment but also just for use every day. I was excited when we had our first meeting because I felt these were people I could definitely work with. Of course there's going to be give and take - which exists in the best of relationships. You want to find people who you like, who you get on with, who you can talk to and feel you can trust, and I think I’m someone who is pretty good at getting a sense of what people are like.’
The 44-year-old Dubliner has made a super smooth transition from midfield maestro to the world of broadcast media, cementing himself as one of rugby’s most-respected pundits and analysts, a role he relishes.
‘I really enjoy the radio show I do on Off The Ball because we are able to pull things apart, you’ve got time, whereas the challenge with TV it can be quite rushed, you’ve got a lot of bases to hit and you can’t always get into the minutiae and detail of what’s happened. But on the radio show I’ve got 40 minutes to talk, usually just on my own with the anchor, there’s no hurry and I can interject, we can move on the narrative, we aren’t too structurally based.
‘There’s a huge freedom to the radio and I have to say I really enjoy that now, probably most of the things I’m doing, certainly from a rugby point of view. The production company is very exciting, I’m learning a lot from it and hopefully in the coming years that will become a big component of my daily working life,’ he adds.
Attention turns back to Zerofit as our conversation comes to an end and Brian is keen to share an idea for us to relay to the Innovation Team in Japan.
‘One product I would love is next level gloves to come out, because I’ve got Raynaud’s disease in my hands, and I lose the circulation in my fingers. Once that happens, I really struggle to get it back, so much so at times I’m bringing a hot water bottle with me to outside broadcasts. If we could develop gloves which had insulation like the Ultimate socks and the Ultimate baselayer had and how it feels against your skin, that would be my number one suggestion.’
All we’ll say on the gloves front is watch this space!