Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Mick O'Driscoll relishing chance to take on South Africa

South Africa will come to the Aviva Stadium on Saturday afternoon with one of the most formidable second row partnerships in world rugby.

Captain Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha are legendary figures in the sport.

But Ireland second row Mick O’Driscoll is relishing the challenge more than most.

For he has had to play most of his representative rugby in the shadow of Lions captain Paul O’Connell.

Now in the absence of the injured O’Connell he’s hell bent on making the most of this rare opportunity to impress.

“Donacha (O’Callaghan) and I are up against two world class second rows, but it’s for days like these that you play rugby,” said O’Driscoll. “Make no mistake — they are a great combination. They are everything you would ask for in a second row partnership.

“They have been playing together for a very long time and that says a lot, especially in a very competitive environment.

“We’re under no illusions in that we must perform to the best of our ability.

Nothing less will do.”

O’Driscoll, who spent two seasons in France with Perpignan, has made a huge difference to Munster’s line out since his return last month.

“Seven or eight weeks ago if someone said I would be starting against South Africa I might have been more than a little bemused,” he said. “But my time in France helped me develop into a better player.

“You have also to remember that when Paul O’Connell’s fit, coach Declan Kidney has four international locks within the squad so there’s always going to be disappointments.”

O’Driscoll was on the bench for Munster against both Leinster and London Irish, but then played a significant role in the Heineken Cup victory over the much vaunted Toulon.

But there’s no danger of the affable big Cork man taking anything for granted.

“I’m just happy to be playing but that could all change come the Six Nations Championship,” he said. “It can be difficult at times sitting on the bench, but it’s something I’ve become accustomed to over the years. I would like to think I’m a better player now than say five years ago.”

O’Driscoll, who has 19 Ireland caps, the most recent of which came against New Zealand and Australia during the summer internationals, has come a long way since making his debut against Romania in 2001. In many respects he’s one of the unsung players in the squad.

A few seasons ago his prospects of playing against the world champions in Dublin would have been remote, but now he has an unexpected chance to rub shoulders with the world’s best.

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