bury the hatchet

'Hopefully this really seals it, that we have put this behind us and it is settled'

13 years on from the infamous spear tackle incident, Brian O’Driscoll and Tana Umaga are reunited in Dublin.

IT WAS ONLY a matter of time before it came up. It was just when, and who. Almost like the elephant in the room. Who would blink first? Excuse the formalities, the pleasantries. Let’s cut to the chase. 

Brian O’Driscoll and Tana Umaga sitting at the top of a round table discussion in Dublin on the week of Ireland’s first-versus-second, Grand Slam champions versus Rugby Championship winners showdown with the All Blacks.

They’re best mates, now. Sharing a joke, having a laugh.

Tana Umaga and Brian O'Driscoll Umaga and O'Driscoll share a joke in Dublin. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Third question in.

What about ‘the tackle’ in 2005?

And then Umaga, the former All Black centre turned Auckland Blues head coach, smiles. He’s in Dublin, in front of the Irish media. There’s no hiding place now.

O’Driscoll takes ownership.

“We were just chatting about it the other night,” the ex-Ireland captain says. “I get asked about it all the time. In any Q&A over the last 13 years, it is probably the one question I can guarantee.”

Over a decade after the infamous spear tackle incident in the first Lions Test of the 2005 tour to New Zealand, this is the first time Umaga and O’Driscoll have sat down together formally. It’s time to draw a line in the sand and move on.

“We parked it a long time ago,” O’Driscoll explains. “It was one of those things. Was it unfortunate? Yeah. Should you have dealt with it slightly differently? Yeah. But you’ve got to move on. You can’t bring those sorts of things through life.

“Listen, we’re able to have a laugh and take the piss about it now, properly. Sometimes you don’t get an opportunity to meet up with people in a controlled environment.

“We see each other at events here and there and have a quick word. Actually, to have a get together and chew the fat and properly get to talk and not feel scared by it is refreshing and, I hope, it’s dead after this.”

Umaga, over in Dublin for a few days in his role as a Guinness ambassador, picks up the mantle: “Exactly, we had a great dinner. That was the key thing for us, to have time together. You pass each other fleetingly at matches and engagements, but to really sit down and chew the fat around that was great.

“That’s just part of this game. We can’t change the past. Yet, it is something whenever I do something that I get asked about and it is well settled between us, put it behind us as Brian has said hopefully this will really put it behind people and we will make peace with it now.”

It may have been an ugly scene inside the frenetic opening exchanges of a highly-charged Test match, as O’Driscoll — the Lions captain, and Ireland’s iconic star player — was upended by Keven Mealamu and Umaga, dislocating his shoulder as he crashed into the Christchurch turf, but what followed in the aftermath wasn’t pretty.

Neither All Black faced punishment at the time or indeed after the game, leaving the Lions coach Clive Woodward and camp incredulous and infuriated as the longest-running feud in rugby began to rage.

An injured Brian O'Driscoll The injury ended O'Driscoll's Lions tour. Hannah Johnston Hannah Johnston

O’Driscoll was upset Umaga had not checked on his wellbeing, and while he has previously admitted he holds regret over the fallout in the subsequent years, Umaga threatened to reopen wounds when he labelled the former Leinster centre a ‘sook’ — Kiwi slang for cry-baby — in his autobiography a couple of years later.

Both players agree it went on too long.

“I think from that point of view it dragged on probably longer than it should have because, maybe, it wasn’t nipped in the bud,” O’Driscoll admitted.

“It dragged on and there are some things you wish you could go back and change.

From my point of view, I am sure Tana too, there are aspects there too I wish I could have done differently too. It is done now and it is in the past. As players you forget you have a lot of commonality.

“We met up during the summer we were playing a golf event with ex-northern hemisphere players against ex-southern hemisphere players and it was like being back in school with your mates because we were all the same mentality and we had such a laugh and you forget that we are 40 — well he’s a little older than me — but your mentality doesn’t change and commonality doesn’t change and we do think and see things the same way.”

Even as recently as last summer, it appeared the issue had not been resolved when Umaga shut down questions over the tackle during a Blues press conference ahead of their tour match against the Lions.

But Umaga’s visit to Dublin has well and truly buried the hatchet now.

“We met at multiple events over the years, probably we had chatted a bit about it here and there,” O’Driscoll continued. “It mightn’t have been a moment, where it was ‘Right, draw this line in the sand.’

Brian O'Driscoll and Tana Umaga The pair met in Dublin as Guinness ambassadors. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“It just kinda naturally happened. It is hard to get away from it though because there is moments like going back to New Zealand, as I am sure it was like for him and you great asked about it and then…particularly as well when you don’t phrase something exactly as well as you wanted to and someone will pick it up in a particular way and go ‘hmm still harbours resent.

“Like it is very hard to say the perfect thing that will be picked up or perceived as ‘it’s done, please’, so hopefully even after 13 years this is that moment.”

Umaga hopes any lingering scars have finally been healed.

As Brian said, hopefully this really seals it, that we have put this behind us, it is settled, and we are happy with life.

O’Driscoll, to finish, laughs: “The smart thing would not to have waited 13 years. It might have worked out a little better.” 

Brian O’Driscoll and Tana Umaga were on hand to preview Ireland’s game the All Blacks as a part of Guinness’ #AnswerIrelandsCall campaign. Fans should visit the Guinness Facebook page and leave their message of support using the #AnswerIrelandsCall to be in with a chance to win tickets to the Guinness Series.

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