Flanker seizing opportunity after biding time
THERE is something of 'Tommy Come Lately' about the Irish Wolfhounds' 26-year-old openside flanker.
It is no coincidence that Tommy O'Donnell brings back to mind the recent devastating exploits of David Wallace when he gets that ball into his hands.
"Obviously learned a lot from Wally, he was really a great carrier. He would go into two-man tackles and just emerge out the other side, so he was the perfect guy to try and emulate," said O'Donnell.
The blurring, snappy steps that produce an instant burst of acceleration quickly morph into a long-striding, long-lasting fifth gear aided by his intent not to go to ground too easily.
You could be looking at Wallace, such are the similarities with the man from Cahir with the Gaelic football background who was Munster's Player of the Year last season and the owner of two Ireland caps from last summer's Test matches against the USA and Canada.
"The way he would go into the gym, looked after his body after tough games and stuff. He was the perfect guy to look up to."
Wallace was the perfect role model but not exactly the right man to have ahead of you in the queue at Munster, stalling O'Donnell's development. He has had to be patient.
There was a time when the retirement of the irreplaceable Wallace looked all doom and gloom for Munster. And for Ireland too.
O'Donnell has shown there is 'Life after David' at Munster and Seán O'Brien has taken the jersey and made it his own for the foreseeable future for Ireland.
O'Brien really matured into a world-class openside in the same way he would have become a world-class six or eight given the consistency of selection.
The Tullow man's dislocated shoulder offers opportunity to Chris Henry, O'Donnell and Jordi Murphy, probably in that order given Joe Schmidt's November choices and the Wolfhounds' combination.
"It really intensified the battle between myself and Chris. And Jordi has been hitting great form as well. He has had some great games at Leinster," said O'Donnell. "It's a great position for Ireland to be in at the moment that we have got four sevens but losing Seán is obviously a big loss in terms of what he brings. It really is an opportunity for whoever gets the nod."
Ulster's Henry has had the big-game experience to hone the fine details of the openside as a more traditional seven with his work in the trenches.
For instance, he recorded 23 tackles against Leicester Tigers at Welford Road last Saturday and spent the rest of his time receiving kick-offs and burying his head in the ruck.
The Irish system mirrors the New Zealand one in terms of what the openside must do. He has to be as destructive as legally possible at the breakdown, an area O'Brien has mastered.
"I really need to add the world-class breakdown that Seánie has added, to be a real nuisance around the breakdown like the McCaws," said O'Donnell. "If you can slow down ball two, three seconds any time you get in there and just make a nuisance of yourself, whether it is a foot or a hand, just create havoc.
"Then there are the other parts that I bring to the game, just keep bringing those abrasive carries and opening spaces."
The power of the collective will always outweigh that of the individual. The challenge is for O'Donnell to work as a unit with two men who are on fire at the moment in captain Rhys Ruddock and number eight Robin Copeland.
"It's a case of go out and impress. I haven't had an opportunity to play with Joe as the coach yet, so I really need to nail down what my role is and just go out and show what I can do in this system."
There are a growing number of emerging players starting to pop up in Irish rugby. Look at Martin Moore at tighthead.
"Look at Iain Henderson in the second-row. Look everywhere in the back-row.
"You have to keep backing yourself and thinking that you are good enough and you don't want to tread water," said O'Donnell.
"I want to be the best seven in Munster and then put my hand up for Ireland selection."
He is halfway there.
ENGLAND SAXONS: E Daly; A Watson, M Hopper, S Hill, C Sharples; F Burns, J Simpson; A Waller, J George, T Mercey, C Matthews, G Kruis, C Clark (capt), L Wallace, D Ewers.
IRELAND WOLFHOUNDS: F Jones; F McFadden, R Henshaw, D Cave, C Gilroy; I Madigan, I Boss; D Kilcoyne, R Herring, M Moore, I Henderson, D Tuohy, R Ruddock (capt), T O'Donnell, R Copeland.
ENGLAND SAXONS v IRELAND WOLFHOUNDS
Kingsholm, Today 5pm (Live Sky Sports 1)