Sunday 18 March 2018

Old enemy provide fresh motivation for O'Callaghan


DONNCHA O'CALLAGHAN has been biding his time ... lying in the long grass, waiting for his chance to strike.

England are likely to feel the force of his pent-up energy and injury-enforced frustration on Saturday, but this week presented O'Callaghan with another opportunity to settle some business -- and he was not about to pass it up

Four weeks ago, O'Callaghan's long-time friend and colleague Paul O'Connell went on the Late Late Show and, in the course of an entertaining chat with host Ryan Tubridy, made hay on the subjects of Donncha's (alleged) use of sunbeds, (allegedly) less than stellar Leaving Cert results, duck-marching antics and close relationship with 'Pinchy' the lobster.

Denied the right of reply at the time, O'Callaghan could only look on powerlessly at this one-way mock-fest and endured the inevitable follow-up slagging at Munster and Ireland training.

However, being reinstated in the Ireland second-row alongside O'Connell, after missing the Italy and France games, gave O'Callaghan the opportunity to have his say on that Late Late lashing.

"He was terrible," starts O'Callaghan, shaking his head. "No, no he was good ... he said some nice things but every one remembers him slagging me over my Leaving Cert and fake tans and making up general stuff. That's just a normal day in the changing room to be fair but the worst thing about this was that it was in front of the entire country.

"All those stories are made up anyway, that's O'Connell looking to divert and cause trouble and blame someone else. Paul's just jealous cos he has no hair, no tan, no teeth."

O'Callaghan's proven partnership with O'Connell, forged over seven years with Munster, Ireland and the Lions, is one of the reasons behind his reinstatement in the team to face England after a month on the sidelines with a knee injury.

Given his lack of match practice, and the excellent form of his replacement Leo Cullen, it was expected the O'Callaghan reintroduction would be from the bench to begin with, particularly after Donnacha Ryan's Six Nations was ended by the dislocated shoulder he sustained in Munster's win over Edinburgh last Friday.

However, even though it was hard on Cullen, Ireland coach Declan Kidney does not take these decisions lightly and spoke of how well O'Callaghan was going in training and how this was the "right mix" for the England game.

The O'Connell-O'Callaghan axis was the right mix for the Grand Slam last year and the November victory over world champions South Africa. The two second rows work seamlessly in tandem, fully aware of each other's role and responsibilities.

However, although delighted to be back in harness with O'Connell, the 30-year-old admits that Cullen's form and his own lack of match practice meant he was far from sure of getting the nod.

"You could look at it two ways. I suppose it is a concern that you wouldn't be match-hardened but I got an incredible three weeks of training done.


"I treated it as mini preseason so that's three weeks that will hopefully stand to me but it's a trade off between being fresh, being fit and the negative is not being as match-hardened but if there's any game where you have to mentally put yourself to the wheel this is definitely it.

"Leo had two super games. The big thing about that is Deccie goes on about having a strong squad and you have to perform and that's the case (for me) this Saturday when you look at the performances Leo has put in.

"There's quality throughout the team and that's not a bad thing if you have internal fighting for places it means you're driven on by yourselves.

"It's good competition to have but you have got to back your own ability as well. There's things that I do that complement the team and push us on to play better."

O'Callaghan has a good record against England, three wins from four outings, the loss coming on Ireland's last trip to Twickenham for Eddie O'Sullivan's final match in charge two years ago.

He has a healthy respect for the English and their captain, much-maligned second row Steve Borthwick.

"He's an incredible line-out operator. He's probably a benchmark of line-outs, both contesting and on your own throw, he sets the standard.

"You'd know from chatting to fellahs like Lee Mears and Matt Stevens how much he puts into them, he probably knows our calls as well as us.

"But it's a great thing, you know that going up against a player like that you're going to have be on your game and really play well.

"I think they've been getting an awful time unfairly. I think they have quality players, they probably haven't clicked as well as they would have liked but when they do, when you look at the broken field runners they have, they could rip somebody apart."

And then there's the old enemy factor, the overwhelming desire that exists in every former colony to beat the English.

"Absolutely. You could play them at any sport and you know everybody watching here would want to beat England and we're no different.

"Granted, you might know a few of them but it's still England in a massive game and the thing about these games is that they have been hugely physical for the last two years, they really have.

"So, one to eight, you know you're in for a big physical performance. Gert (Smal) goes on about it. 'that's why they call them Test matches, you get tested'."

And a final word for O'Connell?

"You look at the two of us and it's clear to see who the better second row is," concludes O'Callaghan.

"Better-looking second row," he hurriedly qualifies, "he'd be back at me over that."

Irish Independent

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