Sean O’Brien is ready for the biggest game of his career on Saturday as he chases rugby’s “ultimate” achievement – a Test series win in New Zealand.
The Ireland flanker delivered an outstanding display during last weekend’s second Test triumph for the British and Irish Lions, which levelled the series and set up an Eden Park decider.
The Lions have not claimed a Test series triumph against the All Blacks since 1971, but the class of 2017 will hold the same revered company as players like Barry John, Gerald Davies, Gareth Edwards, Willie John McBride and John Dawes if they can emulate those glory days.
“This is the biggest game I’ve ever been involved in,” O’Brien said.
“Sydney (in 2013 against Australia) was special – any time you win a series is special – but to come here and win one is the ultimate, especially with the schedule we’ve had and the opposition we are facing, how good they are.
“That’s what it is all about.
“We are here to play rugby and to do what we can for each other. All the external things can sit and wait until we’ve finished the job.
“I would be lying if I said I don’t look back on the Lions’ history and see legends of the game who are still in the spotlight because of what they’ve done years ago.
“That’s part and parcel of it. But as a player, when you are involved in it right now, I don’t think you look at that stuff often, but you are aware of what has gone on before you and what they’ve done.
“We will think about that when we are 50 or 60 years of age sitting having a pint somewhere. They will be nice things at that stage of your life, but not right now. We just want to go out and perform, win, and see where that leaves us.
“The Lions should always be kept – I don’t see why you would get rid of the Lions.
“It has been a unique part of history. It’s a massive thing for players, a massive objective for players in their careers.
“As for the fans, it’s a world event. I can never see it disappearing. You see last weekend and the crowd, and what they bring to it, and how much we enjoy it as players. It’s an amazing thing, I think.”
O’Brien’s week began with a judicial hearing in Wellington after he was cited – and then cleared – of alleged foul play in the second Test, and continued with some fiercely intense Lions training prior to facing the All Blacks for a third time.
“There was a good bit of intensity to it (training), a good bit of cut in it,” O’Brien added. “It’s good to see before a game of this magnitude. The lads are buzzing.
“Yeah, there were a few verbals. I was involved in it myself. It’s not a concern. It’s a good thing. Once the session is done, then lads are best friends.
“They (New Zealand) will be coming to try and hurt us, won’t they? And to physically impose themselves on us this week, which is how they went about it the first week.
“We fronted up pretty well last week, and I think there is a lot of improvement in us and we can go another notch in terms of those stakes as well.
“We all know what is coming on Saturday. They will be a bit hurt after last weekend, but it is something you embrace and you go again.
“We are here for a challenge, and we are going to get it this weekend. It’s about how we react to it, and hopefully we react a lot better to some of the stuff that we put ourselves under in terms of last weekend and keep our heads and play some nice rugby.
“We have to be better this week, and that is a challenge to the group, but one we are looking forward to.”
Sean Maitland has urged the Lions to join rugby’s immortals by inflicting a defeat on the All Blacks that will send New Zealand into mourning.
New Zealand-born Scotland wing Maitland, who travelled to Australia with the elite of British and Irish rugby in 2013, insists a Lions victory would have significant repercussions for both sides.
“If the Lions can do it....everyone is using the word ‘immortals’ and immortals are exactly what they’ll be,” Maitland said.
“I’m from New Zealand and everyone has been talking about this tour since 2005 – that’s how much rugby and the Lions means to the country.
“If the All Blacks lose there will be a backlash from the public, 100 per cent. Rugby there is like football here – it’s massive and part of the culture.”