Sunday 21 January 2018

I don't want a Triple Crown, I want another Championship – Brian O'Driscoll

Brian O'Driscoll, Leinster. Heineken Cup 2013/14, Pool 1, Round 6, Leinster v Ospreys, RDS, Ballsbridge Dublin
Brian O'Driscoll, Leinster. Heineken Cup 2013/14, Pool 1, Round 6, Leinster v Ospreys, RDS, Ballsbridge Dublin
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

BRIAN O'DRISCOLL wants to end his Six Nations career on a high as he prepares for one last tilt at the title.

Admitting that the return of one Grand Slam from his stellar 14-year involvement with Ireland has been something of an underachievement, given the calibre of team-mates he played with, the former national captain wants to go out with a bang this spring.

Joe Schmidt's charges kick off their campaign at home to Scotland on Sunday, before taking on Wales six days later at Lansdowne Road and the centre wants the fans to maintain the kind of intimidating atmosphere they generated during Ireland's near miss against New Zealand in November.

And, as he contemplates moving into what he described as "the afterlife" of retirement next summer, O'Driscoll remained adamant that while he will do everything to achieve success over the next eight weeks, he won't consider his final season a failure if Ireland don't deliver.

"If we don't win a Six Nations, there is still more to play for thereafter," he said. "My focus is definitely on trying to achieve a Six Nations and, of course, on trying to win a second Grand Slam.

"If you offered me the Triple Crown only, I would probably say: 'no'. I don't want to win just three games out of five. I want to go and win the Championship. I want to try and win the Grand Slam. At this moment in time, everyone is on zero, everyone is on a level pegging, so it's all to play for."

The 35-year-old's appearance at a press conference yesterday saw him head off any potential post-Lions controversy at the pass and he is unlikely to be on media duties again until after the match-up against Wales on Saturday week.

He followed Warren Gatland's lead by playing down the fallout from the New Zealand-born Wales coach's decision to drop him for July's final Lions Test, saying: "What happened happened, I don't have any ill will towards Warren. It was raw at the time, but time heals wounds and I don't have any animosity towards him."

Joe Schmidt, meanwhile, had a full squad available for training as preparations for the Championship stepped up at Ireland's Maynooth base yesterday.

Rob Kearney, Peter O'Mahony, Eoin Reddan and Gordon D'Arcy all took a full part after sitting out some of last week's efforts with knocks, while a pair of stitches in a head wound were the only lingering effects Johnny Sexton showed after Saturday's bruising encounter with Toulouse for Racing Metro.

The prospect of Tommy Bowe and Donnacha Ryan coming into contention for the later games in the Championship was heightened with news both could play for their provinces in the Pro12 next week.

Competition for places in the back-row and back three remains fierce ahead of Friday's team announcement, while it remains to be seen whether Schmidt will deal with the short turnaround between the opening game and the pivotal clash with Wales just six days later with rotation.

The New Zealander has seven back-rows to pick from, with Iain Henderson likely to cover the second-row. Chris Henry remains the favourite to get the nod at openside, while Rhys Ruddock's versatility could see him come in as back-row cover on the bench.

In the back three, Dave Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald are the likely lads to line up alongside Rob Kearney, with Andrew Trimble and Fergus McFadden also pushing hard for selection.

Schmidt had a habit of rotating his scrum-halves and hookers at Leinster, which could mean Sean Cronin and Eoin Reddan getting the nod and Rory Best and Conor Murray coming in against Wales, while Luke Marshall and Gordon D'Arcy are battling for the No 12 jersey.

O'Driscoll said the coach was keeping everyone on their toes, and that only Sexton is safe. "No player is incapable of being dropped," he warned. "That goes for me, that goes for everybody, right through to Jamie (Heaslip) to Paulie (O'Connell). That's why you have to keep your standards as high as you would hope them to be."

Irish Independent

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