O'Callaghan relishes competition as Ryan seizes the moment

Des Berry

THREE into two can't go in the rarefied atmosphere of international second-row rugby.

Donncha O'Callaghan had already been relegated to odd-man-out at Munster. There was speculation that the changing of the old guard of Paul O'Connell and O'Callaghan was about to happen for Ireland.

Instead, O'Callaghan has won the backing, retained the trust of coach Declan Kidney, while Donnacha Ryan had to sit until one of the O's suffered a loss of form or fitness.

O'Connell, the stand-in captain, has been the unfortunate one to fall to injury and Ryan has taken his chance just about as well as he could have against Scotland.

How does O'Callaghan feel about the new partnership? "To me, it's not all that new. I train with Donnacha every day. He would be in my centre in Cork along with Mick O'Driscoll," he said.

"To be fair to Donnacha, he hasn't tried to imitate anyone.

"He has brought what he always brings and he has been brilliant at it."

Suddenly thrust into the position of responsibility to call the Irish lineout, replace O'Connell and make his first start in the Six Nations, Ryan rose to the demands.

"His man-of-the-match performance shows how well he has been going over the last few months. It is great for me to have competition for places. It makes you perform well," added O'Callaghan.

The cloud of injury and rehabilitation still hangs over Brian O'Driscoll and O'Connell. It could have been a burden for hooker Rory Best to assume the captaincy. It hasn't been.

"When you get to international level, the biggest thing is that everyone looks after their own job. That is the case. No one wants to be any extra weight for Rory to deal with," issued O'Callaghan.

With improved performances have come improved defence and attack as Les Kiss has delivered on the greater say he has been given by Kidney.

The Irish attack, in particular, has been transformed into the best in the Six Nations: "It has improved an awful lot. But, it hasn't improved enough to get us a championship. That is what you think about.

"I wonder will we regret the first 20 minutes against Wales and the second-half in France. We have to make sure on Saturday we go out and play the right type of rugby.

"Sometimes you don't have to play all the ball if it's on to kick and take the pressure off. There's other ways to win games. We're certainly happy with how we are attacking. Everyone is taking more ownership of it."

On a grander scale, the Irish public has taken ownership of their rugby team to such an extent that a television advertisement can realistically claim 'this is rugby country'. "This team knows the pride the country holds it in. When we perform we know the lift the country gets.

"On a Bank Holiday, it would be great to send those people off on a high."


SHANE HORGAN'S MATCH-WINNING TRY v England, 28-24, Twickenham, March 18, 2006.

"We've got great memories of going to Twickenham. There was Shane Horgan's try in the corner. You remember stuff like that. You try to get back and taste that type of special day again."