Saturday 24 March 2018

O'Connell hails O'Driscoll's 'inspiring' play

Paul O'Connell and Brian O'Driscoll during yesterday's training session in Greystones
Paul O'Connell and Brian O'Driscoll during yesterday's training session in Greystones
David Kelly

David Kelly

Despite Paul O'Connell's unwitting best efforts to smash his captain into another dimension with a careless knee to the head in Twickenham, Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll will lead his troops out for the 62nd time on Saturday against Wales to earn his 100th cap.

And O'Connell spoke for all his team-mates when he alluded to O'Driscoll's talismanic presence in the side for over a decade, during which time Ireland have been transformed from European rugby's laughing stock into Grand Slam champions.

"It's incredible," enthused the pack leader and O'Driscoll's successor as Lions captain. "He talks a lot about people leading by example and that's what he does more than anyone.

"Your best player very often isn't your greatest defender or your greatest tackler, but Brian's biggest strength has been his defence and his ability to poach on the ground.

"He takes unbelievable punishment for a guy who would be considered a flamboyant player. He takes unbelievable punishment in the tackle and the ruck. For a team it's inspiring and it's a great way to lead a team.

"He's set a standard for players across the board. He's a complete player and that's what everybody aspires to be, the complete player both in defence and attack.

"Irish rugby struggled in the 1990s and we play with a lot more confidence now. A lot of that confidence has come on the back of Brian's play and his attitude."

Backs coach Alan Gaffney endorsed the squad's admiration for the Blackrock College maestro.

"He's right up there," said the Australian. "There is very little that he lacks and particularly in the courage stakes. He's a fantastic player, and he's right up there amongst the very, very best I've seen."

O'Driscoll will be fit to take his place in Ireland's midfield despite the sickening blow to the head received after an hour of the brutishly physical encounter against England in Twickenham.

"I don't think there were even proper tests several years ago," said team manager Paul McNaughton, referring to the now seemingly quaint three-week lay-offs for concussion. Nowadays, it seems that players rarely succumb, albeit O'Driscoll's Lions tour ended prematurely last summer after a collision with Danie Rossouw.

"You had your three-week lay-off from rugby when the doctor considered you had concussion. Nowadays in professional rugby you have the various psychometric, cognitive tests," said McNaughton.

"And even at that it's best practice also if there is a suspicion of concussion, and even if you pass the cognitive tests, to go to a neurologist before a player goes back. In Brian's case, he had no problems with the cognitive tests and we brought him to a neurologist as well. He's fine."

Wales have been operating a quasi-cricketing approach to their championship -- putting the opposition into bat allowing a first-half deficit to accrue before beginning a breathless run-chase -- but the suggestion is that they will be much more physical from the off this week, their back-row selection a keen indicator ahead of today's team announcement.

However, Gaffney confirmed that Ireland won't necessarily tailor their approach to counter a different Welsh approach, instead retaining confidence in their own strength in depth.

"We've got a great make-up of the team. It can handle all situations at the present time so I don't think that will come into it to any great degree. There's no doubt Wales like to play an expansive game, from touchline to touchline.

"It's a concern and you've got to defend it well. But we've played against it before and we've handled it well in the past. Cardiff play a bit more direct using Jamie Roberts.

"Wales may come down that route instead of going touchline to touchline. It's something that won't come as any great surprise to us whichever way they play. They've got the ability to play both ways which is a great feather in their caps. But we've got to be able to handle both ways also."

After losing to the Grand Slam champions of two years ago when the Welsh last pitched up in Dublin, O'Connell is hoping that Ireland can compile a clean sweep of home wins in their last campaign in Croke Park.

"We had a disappointing performance that day and they were playing with a lot of confidence and they did really well. They put one over on us, and that will be a big motivation as well.

"We're coming to the end of our time in Croke Park and it will be a big motivation to finish on a high there. We have two games left in the Six Nations, both at home, and we're hoping for a good run in.

"But it's going to be a tough challenge."

Irish Independent

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