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FIGHTing back

Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll tells the Evening Herald's EAMON CARR how he's determined to put Paris loss behind him with victory at Twickenham

A week after Ireland's 33-10 mauling by France in Paris, the wounds, both physical and psychic are healing. Captain Brian O'Driscoll is in a positive frame of mind. The internal bruising has worked its painful way out of the system. He seems cheerful. But resolute.

It's Saturday afternoon and he's enjoying his role as Gillette ambassador, meeting the public, exchanging pleasantries, signing autographs, giving the kids (young and old) a photo opportunity.

Ambassador is a term coined by the public relations and marketing people. In O'Driscoll's case, it's an apt term. He's every inch a diplomat. But definitely not a pushover.

In conversation today he's a bit like he is on the pitch. Considered yet expansive. Unflinching and attentive. Honest. Solid. A captain.

Injuries, suspensions, changes and shake-ups are developments he assimilates without fuss. His objectives remain the same. He wants to win. And this week the one thing O'Driscoll doesn't want to do is compound last week's loss with a second successive defeat after their impressive 15-month, 12-game winning streak.

EC: So what's the mood in the camp like in the wake of the France defeat?

BO'D: The mood is good. It's never nice coming into any situation after a weekend loss. Whether it be with your province or an international, it doesn't change. But once you have the video and try and put that to bed and see where you went wrong and see where you can make improvements, you go out and train.

And then you just have to look at bringing positivity to things and making sure that you don't make those errors again.

EC: Ireland gave as good as they got for the first 20 minutes. Then unforced errors gifted France. Prior to that, the eventual outcome seemed balanced on a knife edge.

BO'D: It's all momentum based. Games are. You have to take your opportunities and nudge in front and stay in the game. Because we didn't do that, because we didn't get the breaking ball off D'Arcy's chip and chase, and not scoring before half-time which probably would have made it a one-try game, 17-10. Those sort of things have huge impacts on games. You really have to take those opportunities and build on them. When they were 17-3 up, they played with a bit more confidence. Passes stuck a bit more.

Then, when you start chasing the game, more often than not, you leave yourself a bit more vulnerable. There's a very fine margin in those games of just getting in front and building your lead. They did what they're typically good at. They nudged in front and over there particularly, when they started trying things they started to stick.

EC: Is it difficult to keep things upbeat and positive in camp? Is the atmosphere tense at present?

BO'D: No, not really. Obviously I've had different atmospheres at different times. The atmosphere post-World Cup 2007 wasn't particularly good. Or over there. Everyone was low because we weren't playing well. Because we weren't having good fun.

It is a matter of being able to train hard, work hard on the pitch, but then when you're away from it being able to still have a laugh. Little things like setting up committees and making sure there are things to do and that boys aren't getting bored. That's a big issue for us. Spending as much time in hotels as we do, boredom can set in. So it's just keeping each other entertained. Certainly last week that was as good as ever.

EC: How hard is it for players not to become frustrated when others are making errors in a game?

BO'D: Frustration is an individual thing as well. Obviously passes didn't stick in the last game. There were more unforced errors than usual. But that's uncharacteristic of guys. I don't think there are any worries from that point of view.

But there's this huge negativity at the moment from outside of the squad about this one loss. It's one loss in 11 games so people just need to relax a little. All teams lose.

We haven't got a great record against France over there. We played well for 20 minutes and then they got their breaks and then, in fairness to them, they pushed on. It's not the end of the world. We just need to go out and try and make sure that we perform well again and hopefully that will take care of the result against England.

EC: Perhaps the defeat by France will take some of the steam out of public expectation, after talk of a second Grand Slam in succession.

BO'D: There is still a Championship to play for and a Triple Crown to be played for. It wasn't so long ago when Triple Crowns were worth winning.

Whether people's perception of that has changed, it hasn't from the team's point of view. We still want to go out and win as many games as we can. If we can't win them all, we try to win enough to win the Championship. If we can't do that, then try to win the Triple Crown.

Two out of the three are still attainable, so nothing changes from our point of view. Just because there's been one loss, there's no point in sulking about it for the rest of the competition.

EC: Rugby punditry seems to be a growth industry in Ireland. Yet if I listen to, or read, five or six commentators I inevitably encounter divergent views. Can that be irritating, off-putting or motivational? How do players deal with that?

BO'D: When you look at all the conflicting reviews, essentially all that is is a load of single people's individual points of view. That's one person. Sure they've got a big readership and as a result some of those people are going to start assuming those thoughts, start believing what they're reading. But from my end that's one person writing something.

I think I am a pretty good judge of when things are going well and when things are going badly. When I'm playing well or not playing too well. When the team is going in the right direction or whether we're a bit stagnant.

With all the varying points of view across the board, I don't think the lads get caught up in them. Some people don't read things. Some people read everything. It's horses for courses from that point of view.

All I can speak of personally is what's written about us doesn't concern me greatly because I genuinely feel, because I've been involved in the game for 10 odd years, that I have as good, if not a better knowledge than the vast majority of people writing out there. Because I know what it's like at the coalface. I know how difficult it is. And I don't know if you can fully get a balanced opinion unless you've been there. Unless you know what Test match rugby is like.

But then at the same time, I've seen some past internationals writing some things that I would be far from (being) in like-mindedness with as regards what has happened in games.

It feels as thought at times they are watching different games than I am.

EC: And you could say that the game is continually evolving.

BO'D: It has changed. It's changed massively in the last three years.

EC: Looking towards the England match, I'm reminded that last year's final score was very close, 14-13.

BO'D: It was. A one-point win. People think, "Ah, we beat England". One point! We had to kick off to them after they got their try and make sure they'd didn't get an opportunity to kick a field goal or a penalty or have another opportunity to score a try.

I'm repeatedly saying this, the margins are so tiny at the top level.

EC: Does the squad relish a visit to Twickenham?

BO'D: We always do. It's a tough place to go and play. I wasn't involved two years ago but looking at it, the boys started well and then I think they were close to 30 unanswered points. (Ireland lost 33-10).

In recent years we have a reasonably good track record in Twickenham so we have nothing to be afraid of going over there. But at the same time there's a realisation that when England play well they're a very hard team to beat. And with every game that they play together and start putting units together, like (Jonny) Wilkinson and (Riki) Flutey, and combinations like back rows and second rows partnerships, even front rows with scrummaging, all of that, they get better as a team.

No matter how bad England are in their own eyes, or in their media's eyes, they're never a bad team.

EC: Apart from winning matches, which is obviously the priority, is putting on scores, and try scoring in particular, proving to be something of a quandry for Ireland?

BO'D: It's (about) winning games. Even last year, you look at our situation, against Italy we got two really late tries and that was the difference. Because had we lost the game to Wales we would still have won the Championship. Because I got an intercept and we took a quick line-out and Lukie (Fitzgerald) got a score. That was 14 points. I think we had to be beaten by 10 or 11 points by Wales to lose the Championship.

When you look at how close all of that is and when you put it together at the end, you realise that -- and you saw Italy against England this year. They nearly got to within a penalty of winning the game. They shut up shop against us in the second half and didn't really come and play against us and made it hard for us to score. They'll do that with other teams too.

But the Six Nations now is getting tighter and tighter and it's far more difficult to get big scores against teams.


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