Irish players hail BOD with impromtpu guard of honour on his final captain's run
Published 07/03/2014 | 16:44
Brian O'Driscoll's "emotional" final international appearance in Dublin will not hinder Ireland's RBS 6 Nations title quest, according to Jamie Heaslip.
The Ireland squad formed an impromptu guard of honour for O'Driscoll as he trotted out for Friday's captain's run training session at the Aviva Stadium.
O'Driscoll will break George Gregan's 139-cap Test appearance record in Saturday's penultimate Six Nations clash with Italy in Dublin.
Joe Schmidt's side can still claim the Six Nations title, despite their 13-10 defeat to England in round three.
Number eight Heaslip has challenged Ireland to place their title bid ahead of paying homage to iconic centre O'Driscoll, who will retire this summer.
"I think he was just milking it there to be honest," joked Heaslip of O'Driscoll's warm captain's run reception.
"We were just cold waiting for him to hurry up, get out and take the picture!
"It wasn't planned, but I'm sure it will be an emotional day for him and his family.
"He's given so much for Ireland and for his team-mates, and I've been lucky enough to be his team-mate for the last eight years.
"So I feel extremely privileged to have been able to play so many games with him.
"But it's weird, there's no talk of it amongst the players.
"He's approaching it like any other game, and to be honest that's what you really expect from a man of his calibre.
"It might be a bit emotional for him, but he's been in a lot of games like this, where it's potentially his last game at home.
"For us it's not an issue, and for him I can't imagine it would be either. He's approached the game the same as always.
"He looks as sharp as ever: he's as focused as ever, he knows exactly what he's doing.
"There's still a lot to be playing for, and that's what we've got to focus on now."
Italy have chosen not to risk highly-rated back-row duo Sergio Parisse and Alessandro Zanni, hoping both will be fresh for their final-round clash with England in Rome.
Assistant coach Les Kiss rejected any notions of Ireland being frustrated if the Azzurri have placed more importance on their England test than this weekend's trip to Dublin.
Joshua Furno has moved from lock out to blindside for Italy, with Paul Derbyshire starting at seven and Robert Barbieri switching to number eight.
"You look at the blokes they've brought in: they are good quality players," said Kiss, anticipating Italy's changes to bolster their line-out challenge.
"So we don't look on it as a frustration, we just know this is going to be a massive challenge to manage these guys.
"We've just got a Test match to play, and quite frankly if you look at most teams now, when a player drops out the quality that's coming in to replace them is getting better and better at every level of rugby.
"Look at two weeks ago: Dan Cole dropped out but Davey Wilson moved in.
"That calibre of player is there all around, and we're getting the same as time moves on."