Kiwi eyes the perfect send-off for Brian O'Driscoll
JOE SCHMIDT insists Ireland will not make a big deal of Brian O'Driscoll's final match for his country on home soil in order to give him the best possible send-off on the pitch.
The former captain is set to become the most capped player in Test history on Saturday week when he wins his 140th cap, makes his 69th appearance on home soil and his 52nd at Lansdowne Road against Italy in what will be, injury and selection permitting, the penultimate game of an illustrious international career.
While acknowledging the significance of such a milestone, Schmidt believes that focusing too much on O'Driscoll's achievement could be an unnecessary distraction ahead of the Italy game, with the Six Nations title still up for grabs.
And he added that sending the 35-year-old off with a win and a performance to be proud of is more important than building the occasion up beforehand.
"What Brian O'Driscoll has done nobody else in Test rugby has ever done, and seeing a fresh-faced little kid in a jersey that looked like it belonged on John Hayes score three tries against France 14 years ago, it's incredible to see where he's come from and where he's got to," Schmidt said.
"So I think the emotion will be pretty well controlled because I think he will want to finish at home in front of his home crowd with a performance that is fitting based on the performances he has provided for Ireland for the last 15-odd years.
"He will keep the emotion in check and that will allow the players around him to do the same. He is the consummate professional."
Schmidt confirmed that Jonathan Sexton injured his thumb in Saturday's defeat to England, but remains hopeful his fly-half will be available for the two remaining games of the campaign.
Sexton has returned to Paris and could play for Racing Metro this weekend against Castres.
Peter O'Mahony is the major doubt ahead of the Italy game after he injured his hamstring, but Schmidt said he hoped the Munster captain would be able to train next week.
O'Driscoll should shake off the calf cramp to take part in training in Belfast today and tomorrow, before preparations begin in earnest at the weekend ahead of the season-defining meetings with Italy and France.