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D'Arcy trusts next crop to fill O'Driscoll chasm

GORDON D'ARCY considers the statistic. Brian O'Driscoll has missed just five Six Nations matches in his career and never more than one a season since he made his debut against England in the competition in the spring of 2000.

The D'Arcy/O'Driscoll midfield axis has been paired together a world record 47 times at international level, two clear of England's Jeremy Guscott and Will Carling, with their record standing at 31 wins and 16 defeats across the most successful era in the history of Irish rugby.

The origins of this more enduring of partnerships can be traced back to December 2003 when O'Driscoll picked up an injury against Sale.

For the return fixture a week later, Gary Ella shifted D'Arcy to outside centre from the wing as cover at the suggestion of Willie Anderson and that's where he started the Six Nations opener against France the following spring.

Wales came to Dublin a week later and, with O'Driscoll fit again, Eddie O'Sullivan paired them together, thus introducing one of the best-known double acts in the game.

So, if anyone can quantify the impact O'Driscoll's absence will have on the Irish squad as they gathered in Limerick last night for Six Nations duty, it is the Wexford man and he admits Ireland will have to tweak how they do things ahead of the Six Nations clash against Wales on Sunday week.

"Irish rugby has been built on his shoulders for a long time and he has been the foundation of the team for Leinster and Ireland," said the PUMA ambassador, who is set to sign a new contract that will keep him at Leinster until 2014. "So it's a case of how do you replace the irreplaceable?"

"But Fergus (McFadden) and Eoin O'Malley start playing for Leinster and Keith Earls gets a few games for Munster and you just have to fill the void and get on with it. If you are worried about it, then it becomes a bigger problem than it is. You just look at the form of the guys in the 13 jerseys for the provinces, you put faith in them.

"You put someone in that 13 jersey and they understand the magnitude of what they are taking on -- they either grasp it with both hands or they don't.

"All those guys are candidates and have different attributes that say Brian doesn't have. So you work with whoever is there and you play to his strengths."

The same cold analysis is applied to the rematch against Wales on Sunday week. The motivation from last year's World Cup quarter-final defeat is a factor, D'Arcy agrees, but warned it can't be the "be all and end all".

"I was thinking about it yesterday when I was walking my dog. I was wondering, does it really make a difference that it's Wales up first?

"We have to play them at some stage. When you get knocked out by a northern hemisphere team, you have to play them sometime pretty soon afterwards.

"I have personally put the World Cup to bed. I've had long chats with (sports psychologist) Enda McNulty and other people close to me.

"The thing it comes back to is, you are never going to change that score, result or performance. Wales made a few good decisions and got some luck on the day. I don't think they are a better team than us but the record books show different, but I have put that to bed.

"But the loss will be a good element for us in our preparation. We definitely owe them one, but it can't be the be all and end all. We can't be overly focused on getting revenge. Revenge never works (laughs), no matter what the situation."

Ireland met briefly over Christmas in Carton House, but the camp in Limerick will be the first real opportunity the players will have to see the influence Les Kiss' expanded role will have on back play.

Backs coach Alan Gaffney stepped down after the World Cup and with no direct replacement appointed, Kiss saw his role expanded.

"He will bring enthusiasm into the backs role. I did a little bit of YouTube on him and he wasn't a bad little player. I really am looking forward to seeing what he can do, he has some really good ideas."

Irish Independent